Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea is a novel by Michael Harrold


In his memoir, British citizen, Michael Harrold catalogs his experiences working for the Pyongyang Foreign Languages Publishing House in North Korea from his arrival in March of 1987 to his departure in February of 1994. His experiences were unique because he was the first Britain to ever work for the North Korean government and one of the few foreigners living in North Korea at the time.

His main responsibility was the translating of the Great Leader’s, Kim Il Sun, speeches from Korean into English. In the 405 page book he discusses his experiences in a personal, open manner. He tells of his colleagues- the few other foreigners- and his attempts at forming relationships with the people of North Korea. These attempts are unsuccessful as he finds the people of North Korea to be warm and generous yet suspicious and very private.

Almost immediately after his arrival Harrold realizes this interesting job opportunity is nothing like he expected- his pay is less than originally agreed upon and he is banned from exploring the city (Pyongyang) without a translator with him at all times. His travels within the country itself were very limited and extremely supervised. His annoyance with the surveillance, as he quickly learns all foreigners are subject to, grows as his time in North Korea progresses.

The organization of the book is chronological and thus easily followed. Harrold chooses to focus on the people of North Korea and what he learns of them instead of the government for the most part in his memoir. After almost seven years of living in Pyongyang, Harrold left North Korea in February 1994 with no plans of ever returning.

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