I have always been fascinated by North Korea.

I long to visit the secretive country myself one day, and see for myself the hermit-like kingdom.

Some of the things I have read and seen over the years about the place seem so fantastical, so improbably, I can't believe they are true.

In a country where the leader is described officially, as being "born of heaven" and female North Korean soldiers are seen goose-stepping through Pyongyang, it isn't hard to imagine a Ministry of Silly Walks existing here.

Advertisement

And that Monty Pythonesque vibe to North Korea is therefore perfectly described by Monty Python alumni Michael Palin.

Palin, who since the 1980s has steadily built up his reputation as a skilled and humorous travel writer and presenter, visited North Korea in 2018 with a camera crew. The resultant documentary they produced has won numerous plaudits worldwide, deservedly so.

Palin has now turned the journal he kept while travelling across North Korea into an immensely readable book that paints a clear picture of his time in North Korea.

Hardly surprisingly from a man responsible for the funniest sketch in all TV history (in my opinion) the dead parrot, Palin uses his skills of observation and humour to describe a country many consider indescribable.

The book is reasonably short, but that doesn't mean it doesn't pack a punch. It is packed full of amusing anecdotes, colourful pictures and all the Palin humour you would want.

It's not a guide book, nor does it proclaim to have any major insight into the country - he openly writes of how closely his group was watched and escorted though the kingdom - but it does give a different angle to a country rarely visited.

Palin is also honest about his own preconceptions and how his view of the country did change a little during his time there. His intelligence shines through as he considers the differences between his culture and that of North Korea.

An end chapter written by the TV documentary director Neil Ferguson about his own experiences in arranging the documentary filming added more context to the book and provided, on its own, a fascinating insight into the world of documentary making.

Advertisement

The book has left me wanting more - I will be looking up the television documentary and also checking for more travel books by Michael Palin next time I am in the library.

It's worth a read if you are at all interested in North Korea, or travel to interesting places, or simply looking for a book to make you smile while teaching you a thing or two about the hermit kingdom.


This regular column showcases some of the books available to borrow from the Stratford or South Taranaki book catalogues. The books are chosen by our editorial team.

As well as borrowing books from the Stratford Library, Stratford library card holders can also borrow books from the South Taranaki book catalogue at no extra cost.

This shared service is very popular, with over 300 books moving between the libraries each week. Library users can reserve books online regardless of which library they belong to and can also return issued books to the Stratford Library or any of the seven South Taranaki libraries.

Reserving items is free. Library members are notified by email or a phone call when reserved items are ready to collect.

All of the books reviewed in this column are available to borrow through the library system.