I have attempted to present the realities of life in current-day North Korea as accurately as possible based on the present available information. (By the time the book is in print, some of what I have written may already be outdated.)
But I have also made a few decisions in service of my story. For instance, the Arirang Mass Games have not been held since 2013, but I included a performance here, because the scale, organization, and presentation of the event is a uniquely and definitively North Korean phenomenon.Read More
It’s possible to trace Mia and Simon’s entire journey in In the Shadow of the Sun.
I plotted it on Google Earth as I was researching and writing it.
Note that I did add the stairs down which they escape at Mangyongdae, and the park along the river in Sinuiju.Read More
While I was writing In the Shadow of the Sun, I traveled to Dandong, China, where I was thrilled to discover that my hotel room window faced the Yalu River with a view of the city of Sinuiju.
I took a motorboat ride through the waters that separate the two countries, and traced my charcaters, Mia
and Simon’s steps up a section of the Tiger Mountain Great Wall. There, I sat and gazed at “One-Step Crossing” and the North Korean countryside.
These books and films emerged as some of the most significant for me as I wrote In the Shadow of the Sun, especially in illuminating the variety of contemporary life experiences of North Korean people. I encourage readers to seek out primary sources, to learn from authentic North Korean voices speaking about their own experiences. (Resources appropriate for younger audiences are marked with an asterisk.)
The Bradt Travel Guide, North Korea * (2003, 2007, and 2014 editions) by Robert Willoughby, the “only major standalone tourist guide to North Korea.” The guidebook Mia brings with her is based on the 2005 reprint of the 2003 edition.
“Camp 14: Total Control Zone,” a filmed interview with Shin Dong-Hyuk, the only person known to have been raised in and to have escaped from a no-release North Korean prison camp. Shin has since admitted that not all details of his account were accurate, in both the film and a book about his experiences — for instance, that he was not born in the camp but sent there with his family as a young child. But observers seem to agree that as his story is similar to accounts of other former adult inmates and guards, it still provides important and accurate information about
the realities of prison camp life.
Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea (Atria, 2015) by Jang Jin-sung, a rare account from the elite perspective of a poet laureate to Kim Jong-il.
Every Falling Star* (Amulet Books, 2016) by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland, a young adult memoir of a boy, born into a privileged family, who spent five years scrounging on the streets as a “flower swallow” before escaping to South Korea.
The Girl with Seven Names (William Collins, 2015) by Hyeonseo Lee, a richly detailed memoir of growing up in a high-status, relatively affluent family and crossing the border into China as a willful teenager, an unwitting defector.
(Ms. Lee, now an activist on behalf of North Korean defectors, has a popular 2013 TED talk.*)
“My Daily Life in North Korea (MYSTERIOUS 7 DAY TRIP)”* (2016), a 14-minute video by “digital nomad” Jacob Laukaitis that takes the viewer along for a typical DPRK tour.
North Korea Confidential (Tuttle, 2015) by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, the most up-to-date and comprehensive account of the astonishing changes that North Korean society is currently undergoing.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) by Barbara Demick, a rare picture of daily life in the northeast and the devastating impact of the 1990s famine, based on interviews with defectors.
“A State of Mind”* (2004), a documentary film that follows two young gymnasts in Pyongyang as they compete for the privilege of performing in the Mass Games.
Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America (HMHC, 2015) by Joseph Kim with Stephen Talty, a memoir of a North Korean childhood, from comfort to deprivation to street life, before escaping as a teenager. (See also his TED talk.*)
Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim (Broadway Books, 2015), an account by a Korean American investigative reporter posing as an English teacher at a Pyongyang school run by foreign missionaries.
For details of North Korea tours, I consulted numerous online blogs and photo essays. NKNews.org (by subscription) offers a comprehensive source of news about the DPRK.Read More