Wyatt’s World: Reading Around the Hidden Kingdom‚ÄîLiterature About North Korea

A steady buzz is building over Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son (Random), but it is not the only well-reviewed title concerning North Korea. Consider also these works to create a minicollection for interested patrons:

  • James Church’s Inspector O novels (Minotaur), A Corpse in the Koryo, Hidden Moon, Bamboo and Blood, and The Man with the Baltic Stare: Perhaps the best-known fiction set in North Korea, these hard-boiled mysteries feature a state security officer and provide readers with nuanced glimpses into the politics and people of the little-known country.
  • Hwang Sok-Yong’s The Guest (Seven Stories): living in the United States, Rev. Ryu Yosop has long been haunted by his memories of a near three-month-long massacre he witnessed in his native North Korea. In this carefully observed and intricate novel, Yosop decides to leave America and travel back to his homeland to confront his past.
  • Jeff Talarigo’s The Ginseng Hunter (Nan A. Talese): descriptive and bleak, this book places readers on the border between North Korea and China, following a ginseng hunter who is faced with a maelstrom of violence as he becomes entangled with a North Korean prostitute.
  • Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy: The Ordinary Lives of North Korea (Spiegel & Grau): For narrative nonfiction fans, Demick recounts the real life stories of North Korean defectors. Each oral history reveals the personal cost of living in a totalitarian state and puts a human face on the few news stories we hear about desperate poverty and psychological isolation.
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net


  1. Margaret Heilbrun says:

    The Feb. 15 issue of LJ will include reviews of two Spring 2012 books on North Korea, one of which has a blurb by Demick. It’s about one of the few people to escape from a North Korean gulag, while the other explains North Korea’s mode of “charismatic politics.”