In North Korea

Monday, 9 October 2017

There’s absolutely no shortage of books about North Korea, I’ve even tackled the subject myself in my book Bad Lands. Donald Trump’s recent forays into the topic, with his less than successful verbal assault on the country’s ‘Rocket Man,’ only focused even more attention on the rogue state. Kim Jong-un definitely won that one by describing Trump as a ‘dotard.’

◄ Nick Danziger’s wonderful cover photo for In North Korea, how can you lose with goose-stepping-mini shorted-swords-women?




Now Canadian author Rory MacLean has had a spell in North Korea with writer and photographer Nick Danziger. The result is In North Korea, subtitled Lives & Lies in the State of Truth, it’s available as a very reasonably priced ebook from or There’s a print version on the way. Rory’s unique approach is to interview 12 assorted citizens including an artist, a football player, a farmer, an army general, a subway train dispatcher and even a dolphin trainer. Unfortunately it’s clearly going to be impossible to have an honest interview with any North Korean citizen. Even if they knew the real story of the disaster-state they live in, they’re not going to be able to say anything about it so you’ve got no greater depth than any tourist visitor to the country – like me – is going to discover.

▲ Lake Chon, the lake which straddles the border between North Korea and China. When I took this photograph, looking down on the lake, in May 2004 it was still frozen and it was so cold I could easily have believed that this is the highest lake in the world.

Visitors to North Korea quickly discover that nothing is really believable, you begin to think everything is a movie set. If you walk behind the building it will all be a fake, some two-dimensional Hollywood construction. So it’s amusing to see Rory announcing that Lake Chon is ‘the highest and deepest in the world.’ In fact at 2189 metres (7182 feet) elevation it wouldn’t be the highest lake in Switzerland and wouldn’t even feature in the top 10 highest lakes in the USA – number one is Lake Waiau in Hawaii at 3968 metres (13,020 feet). Nor is it spectacularly deep, at 384 metres (1260 feet) Lake Chon is less than one quarter the depth of Lake Baikal in Russia (1642 metres, 5386 feet), which in turn is only slightly deeper than Lake Tanganyika in Africa. Still in the wonderland of North Korea this quite probably is the ‘highest and deepest lake in the world.’

Rory is the author of an assortment of excellent travel books including Magic Bus, his historic foray along the Hippie Trail. He stayed with me in Australia for a week while he was researching it.