‘Where you are bound to spend each day on a roller coaster, alternately charmed, intrigued, disgusted, amused, terrified—often all of these at once.’
American Travis Jeppesen spent the summer of 2016 studying Korean in Pyongong, North Korea, and the result is this book, See You Again in Pyongyang. Jeppesen seamlessly cuts his narrative with snatches of the history and culture of the Hermit Kingdom in a book that is both immediate and reaching in scope.
He gleams as much reality as possible from his minders and the many ‘ordinary’ people he meets in his stay. Joining him are a couple other students (who may or may not be obsessed with the DPRK). His mornings are spent at a local university studying vowels, consonants, pronunciation, and vocabulary (the only student in the class), and the afternoons and weekends are reserved for trips to tourist sites in and around the capital city. From art to literature to languages to economics and business endeavors, the author serves as the reader’s guide through a country that few have spent any time in.
Jeppesen’s writing definitely has some bite. His Author’s Note immediately deals with the question of ‘torture porn’ and other issues that may come up in traveling to countries like North Korea. He anticipates his audience and addresses their questions, and teeters between defending the common citizen and revealing truths of the regime.
Overall, Jeppesen’s See You Again in Pongyong is a timely travelogue with a distinct edge. He comments and editorializes on several timely issues facing DPRK including the Otto Warmbier incident, the current US administration’s diplomatic involvement, and the International treatment of defectors. The author tries to lay out the complexities, the truths, the half truths, and the rumors, in an effort to make the reader contemplate where and how we get our information.
4 out of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley, Hachette Books, and Travis Jeppesen for the advanced copy for review.