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review 2017-03-12 10:17
My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth
My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth - Wendy E. Simmons

In much the same way Simmons felt about her holiday in North Korea, I found her memoir of it both horrifying and educational.  I'm not sure I'd have been able to find the hilarity the way she did, had I been the one on the holiday, but I certainly appreciated her humorous perspective and her writing.


As she goes to great pains to make clear, she was there as a tourist; she does not pretend at any point to understand the political underpinnings of the tragedy that is North Korea.  This is a memoir of her holiday there, and her personal experiences during those 10 days, both the horrifying and the heart-touching moments.  Oh, and a LOT of Twilight Zone moments.


I have to say, I've had this book for awhile, but hesitated to open it because the cover gave me the impression it would be totally different that it is.  That cover photos is a photo Simmons took while there, when she was invited to a wedding reception on the spur of the moment.  That woman is the bride to be.  Knowing that gave this book a whole different spin in my head, and highlighted the comedy of the absurd that ran throughout those 10 days.


If you enjoy travel memoirs, and you're curious about the culture of a totally closed society minus any political philosophy, and heaps of swearing and humor, definitely check this book out.  I did not want to put it down from the moment I opened the cover.


ETA:  I have the print edition and it's loaded with great full-color photographs that just added that extra level of interest to the book.

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review 2015-02-07 09:03
A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union
A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union - John Burdick,Rick Smolan

I have always been deeply fascinated by Russia - a fascination that was no doubt inspired by the "Iron Curtain" and the closed society of the USSR; I'm a child of the Cold War, after all.  But as interested as I was by the politics of it all (it was my major at university until the Berlin wall was pulled down and my advisor said "We need to re-evaluate.") what really fascinated me was the culture: the people, the art and the Arts.  When everyone else had rock posters on their walls I had LeRoy Neiman's Mikhail Baryshnikov on mine.


This book is amongst the oldest in my collection, in terms of my ownership.  Bought new, it's one of the few that moved with me every time over the the last 18 years, always treated with kid gloves and always given pride of place on my shelves.  I took it off the shelf today to dust, and soon found myself curled up on my beanbag trying to juggle its large format without jostling Easter-cat as she tried to snooze on my lap.


The book is brilliant.  The photos are brilliant.  But what still chokes me up after almost 2 decades is what this book represented at the time; the unprecedented access, the struggle to create the book, the little vignettes the photographers told about their day and their experience. The cooperation between two societies taught through decades of propaganda to distrust each other.


The USSR is long gone now, but the book, I think, retains its relevancy, as a historical record of a country that no longer exists and an example of what's possible when politics are put aside.  There are quite a few countries in this series and I am interested in acquiring A Day in the Life of America and A Day in the Life of Australia, but this is the one that's always going to retain pride of place on my shelves.

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review 2014-04-05 22:54
Down Under
Down Under - Bill Bryson

An excellent overview of an often overlooked country, I can't recommend this book enough to anyone interested in an informative, but funny, look at a country unlike any other.


Bryson is obviously besotted with Australia, but he doesn't pull any punches about what's wrong with it either.  Lightly interspersed amongst the travel adventures and colour commentary are quite a lot of facts about this astounding country and it's amazing environmental diversity.  His information about the aboriginals is never preachy or judgemental, but doesn't gloss over what's been done, either.  He left me wanting to learn more about their culture, in much the same way I'm interested in Native American culture.


This was a re-read for me, as I first picked up the book when I moved to Australia, almost 7 years ago.  But I still closed it last night, shaking my head in wonder (again) and all this country has and how much of it has yet to be tapped, mapped, or surveyed.


I've never tried to share a book with my partner, but I've told him, as a born-and-bred Aussie, that he has to read this book; to have a better appreciation of just how special his country is, but also, to make it easier to convince him of the need to travel more around it.

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