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Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea ' 'author' ' Michael Harrold

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Michael Harrold tells the story of his seven-year stint in the North Korean city of Pyongyang as a translation editor, all the while he is pestered, watched and accused by his North Korean government caretakers. During his stay in North Korea a series of events further destabilize the country the economy flounders due to international economic boycott and a decision to hold the Olympics in South Korea after they were thought to be shared with South Korea.

Michael Harrold applies for and eventually receives a job in closed North Korea as an editor of articles, mostly from Kim Jong Il’s office translated into English. The position makes him the first British citizen to live and work in North Korea. Harrold repeatedly blunders over communist cultural differences. After early embarrassment Harrold only half-heartedly tries to assimilate, instead he resists the North Korean rules. As a result, partially because of his resistance, partially because of the North’s paranoia, Harrold is accused of a laundry list of crimes, the charges of which are quickly dropped. The latter two parts of the book mostly talk of his attempt to become adopted into normal North Korean society.

Harrold combines history from the period with his own personal experiences and perceived opinions of his local friends. Harrold’s account of North Korea, while interesting and often insightful, is tainted, perhaps unavoidably because it is written by a stranger in a foreign land, but even more so than necessary because he lived in a separate world than the North Koreans. Again, only part of this is because of his own fault; the North Koreans treat foreigners with extreme hospitality and caution, but also his accounts of events are almost always tempered by obvious western attitudes. Subsequently, he comes off as just the type kind of person the North Koreans don’t want in their country and he is “asked to leave.”

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