North Korea Journal by Michael Palin

Published July 19, 2020

North Korea Journal by Michael Palin

Book info

  • Title North Korea Journal
  • Author Michael Palin
  • Year 2019
  • Genres Non-fiction, Travel

A glimpse of life inside the world’s most secretive country, as told by Britain’s best-loved travel writer. In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the countryside has barely moved beyond a centuries-old peasant economy but where the cities have gleaming skyscrapers and luxurious underground train stations. His resulting documentary for Channel 5 was widely acclaimed. Now he shares his day-by-day diary of his visit, in which he describes not only what he saw – and his fleeting views of what the authorities didn’t want him to see – but recounts the conversations he had with the country’s inhabitants, talks candidly about his encounters with officialdom, and records his musings about a land wholly unlike any other he has ever visited – one that inspires fascination and fear in equal measure.


It’s Michael Palin’s way to release an accompanying book to go with his travel adventures on TV, and his trip to North Korea was no different. Well, I suppose it was very different and the book is a great way to relive it. I watched the programme when it was on, which was a long while ago, so it was good to revisit things in another medium. The book takes the form of a diary with day by day thoughts and exploits, alongside lots of photos.

It’s so interesting to hear Michael’s thoughts about this closed-off nation, particularly as he visited during an interesting time where it felt like it was just starting to open up. But even with that, it’s so obvious that he’s being shown carefully calculated things. The moment where he walks through the park of people playing games and letting loose is the only time I feel like the minders lost control of things a little bit.

Otherwise it’s all statues and museums, activities and picturesque places, carefully chosen and managed to give a certain view of the country. Of course Michael adds his thoughts about what he’s seeing, he’s no fool, and that makes for an interesting and super quick read. Loved it.

Rating: 5 / 5

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