But, in North Korea, it's just the opposite. There's one story. It's written by the Kim regime. And 23 million people are conscripted to be secondary characters. There, as a youth, your aptitude towards certain jobs is measured, and the rest of your life is dictated, whether you'll be a fisherman or a farmer or an opera singer.
I'd known that the visit would be highly scripted and that genuine interactions with citizens wouldn't be possible, since it's illegal for them to speak with foreigners. Still, I'd thought I'd had a unique look at North Korea, only to discover I was wrong.
It's true. In America, you can reinvent yourself at any turn. And, you know, if things aren't going well for you in life, everyone says, change, become someone different.
For an entire populace, change, growth, and spontaneity were dangerous. Acting upon a personal desire, whispering a hidden longing, revealing your true feelings - all the human actions we think of as essential to a character - had be censored by the self lest they be punished by the state.
The reader feels as if he is in Chongjin, where starving people ate the bark off trees; or atop Mount Taesong with the elite of Pyongyang, whose existence is a mix of sadism and whimsy; or with the masses who are bombarded day and night with the propaganda of North Korea's alternate reality.