November 29, 2023

“Reading North Korea: an Ethnological Inquiry” – A Book Review

A look at Professor Sonia Ryang's most recent book on the DPRK

Professor Sonia Ryang of Iowa University may well be one of the few qualified people to discuss matters of North Korean culture from an insider's perspective. For those who like to follow North Korea through visual media, her life experience might be compared with that of Yang Yong-hi, the director of Dear Pyongyang and Goodbye Pyongyang, although Ryang’s academic background adds an extra layer of depth to her work on the DPRK.

Born in Japan, from one of the many Korean families who were often forced to move there during the colonial occupation of Korea, she was raised within the North Korean community in Japan (Chongryon) where her father figured as a prominent member. She visited North Korea during the 1980s, when few outsiders were allowed. Through her family, she had privileged access to North Korean materials, knowledge of the language and was fully immersed in the sociocultural environment of Chongryon during her youth.