Overview: My Holiday in North Korea
When you look at your list of countries you want to travel to, North Korea isn’t a country that usually comes to mind. Wendy Simmons felt differently, and luckily shares her vacation with us in My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth. Despite her knowledge of the corruption and straight-up craziness of North Korea, Simmons enters the country with positive expectations. She’s heard that she won’t get a scrap of truth out of any citizen, but still hopes to make some human connections. Near the end of her trip, the ebullient and gutsy Simmons became depressed and unmotivated. After receiving non-answers to her questions, touring suspiciously clean and empty amusement parks/factories/parks, and being told repeatedly how awful America is, her suspension of disbelief imploded.
Many of us will never get the chance to vacation in North Korea. This book may be as close as any of us get. Simmons doesn’t write her book as a study of the political, cultural, and social intricacies of North Korea. The book is written as a regular travel journal. Simmons hilariously describes what it’s like being in a country that force-feeds you lies, expecting you to nod along with them in the ruse. Her tour guides and handlers unabashedly tell her how all of North Korea’s problems are America’s fault, and how America is the worst country in the world, despite being fully aware that she is American. North Korea is touted as the greatest country in the world, and Simmons has to question how much the citizens actually believe this when every single thing about their lives is so depressing. Even a museum of the great “treasures” of North Korea looks like an empty pawn shop.
Despite the obvious awkwardness of being an American traveling in North Korea, Simmons takes everything in. She notices when people give her death stares. She also notices when certain people seem to be silently calling out to her with their eyes. Even children, who Simmons says are unfailingly representative of their countries because of their lack of composure, are well trained to avoid foreigners and be on their best behavior. Instead of feeling lifted up by her visit to a school, she leaves with a sense of unease. Every classroom she entered only came to life once she entered, with children performing well-rehearsed plays of being in “music class” (seemingly all girls must play the accordion) or “calligraphy class”. Touring empty amusement parks and factories (“Oh, it’s empty because everyone only comes here at a certain time!”) was something she expected and could stomach, but witnessing the effects of dictatorship on children proved to finally break Simmons.
The book contains pictures of the sights and people that Simmons was expressly allowed to photograph, allowing a glimpse at what Simmons witnessed. Alice in Wonderland quotes precede each chapter, perfectly alluding to the absurdity of North Korea. While Simmons’ trip left her with the impression that North Korea is the worst place on Earth, her ability to find the humor in the horrible makes My Holiday in North Korea an eye-opening yet light read.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Great Leaders