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Monday, September 8th


Jia: A Novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim

The Other North Korea

A review by Christian Caryl

[Ed. note: This review covers five books; Jia: A Novel of North Korea, North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea, A Corpse in the Koryo, Hidden Moon, Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country.]


The short version is easily told. North Korea is one of the world's most closed societies, a tightly run police state wedded to a rigid totalitarian ideology. Obedience is enforced by an all-encompassing system of surveillance and control; the merest deviation can land not only the guilty individual but his entire family in a concentration camp. The militarization of life is broad and deep: a population of 23 million supports a 1.2 million–man army, one of the world's largest, and uniforms are common even for non-military professions. Kim Jong Il, the nation's ruler, is the object of a surreal personality cult. The message of unquestioning fealty to him is hammered into the population day and night through an array of state media...

Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher

A Well-Brewed Book with a Good Head

A review by Doug Brown

I like beer. Ales in particular, and hoppy ales in very particular. Russian River Brewing's Pliny the Elder (and the rarer Pliny the Younger) are heaven in a glass to me. Several of my friends brew at home, but I'm a mere appreciator of the results of brewing. In general, though, I'm not a fan of beer books. They tend to be either mostly about homebrewing or encyclopedias of beer brands which are out of date as soon as they hit the shelves. But, in the gift shop of Stone Brewing in San Diego where we had gone for lunch and a pint, a homebrewer friend of mine picked up a copy of Tasting Beer...

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

A caf? kiss

A review by Gabriel Josipovici

When Amos Oz was small he wanted to be a book. Not a writer but a book, like the ones his librarian -- father catalogued and looked after. Now in his sixties and Israel's best-known author, he has chosen to write a book about his parents and himself, about his parents in order to understand himself, and especially in order to try to understand the event that marked him more than any other, the suicide of his mother when he was twelve, and his subsequent decision to leave his father's house, change his name, and go and live in a kibbutz. It is a universal human story, but it is also a very...

Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly

Arrested Development

A review by Christopher Hitchens

Let us without delay get to the core statement of Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise, which first appeared in 1938, survived a slightly revised reappearance in 1948, has just been reissued (and is very ably introduced by Alex Woloch) by the University of Chicago Press, and has seemed to challenge us to reconsider it in every intervening decade:

Promise! Fatal word, half-bribe and half-threat, round whose exact meaning centered many tearful childhood interviews. "But you promised you wouldn't," "but that wasn't a promise," "Yes it was -- you haven't kept your promise," till...

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

The Dreamer of Brooklyn

A review by Peter Kurth

The title of Jonathan Lethem's amazing new novel refers to the "secret sanctum" of the Man of Steel — Superman — an impenetrable hideout, as students of Action Comics will know, hewn from the solid rock of a mountain "in the desolate Arctic wastes," where Superman goes to relax and unwind, "conducts incredible experiments, keeps strange trophies, and pursues astounding hobbies!" This fortress, as yet unnamed, made its first appearance in the Superman series around 1942, when creative ideas for Superman's future began to wear thin and new characters joined old plots to keep the...

Embracing the Lie: Ding Ling and the Politics of Literature in the People's Republic of China by Charles J. Alber

Significant and scared

A review by Jonathan Mirsky

Ding Ling (1904-86) was China's most famous female writer but, after his initial enthusiasm for her early revolutionary spirit, Charles J. Alber, one of the leading Western experts on her life, became disillusioned with her. This is evident in the title of his second book on Ding Ling, Embracing the Lie. In it, Alber, Professor of Chinese and Chinese literature at the University of South Carolina, writes about Ding's life from 1949 to her death. Spanning most of the twentieth century, his two volumes (the first is called Enduring the Revolution: Ding Ling and the politics of literature in...

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding

Spy Girl

A review by Sacha Zimmerman

I have a strong visceral reaction to chick lit. When I see titles like Bergdorf Blondes and The Devil Wears Prada (don't even get me started on anything by Candace Bushnell), I can't help but be revolted by their reinforcement of vacuous gender stereotypes. If you aren't a thin, attractive label whore working in fashion, p.r., or magazines, you may as well not exist as far as these books are concerned. I'm not saying the antidote is to rush right out and buy some Virginia Woolf, but do pulpy chick books really have to be so shallow? I mean, I love designer clothes, shopping, dashing men...

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