Hanging Out with Kim Jong-il

Like many in the insulated west, I've long been fascinated by North Korea, what life is like in there, and what will happen to the peninsula after the walls come down. (Of course, I'm half a world away, so I have the luxury of being fascinated with North Korea. Life inside the country, I suspect, is beyond rough and might get even worse in the first years of inevitable reunification.) I've read extensively on the country, enough so that I almost understand the concept of juche. And I've explored the country a bit in my fiction. My novel-in-progress has a sequence in which an over-the-hill rocker is invited to perform a goodwill concert in Pyongyang, although I'm not sure the subplot it's part of will earn space in the final draft.

My hometown website boston.com (disclosure: I used to consult for 'em) has a terrific feature called The Big Picture that tells news stories in photographs. A year and change ago, the section ran a gripping Recent scenes from North Korea, a collection of 32 photos, all taken in 2008, some from wire services, some from freelancer Eric Lafforgue's then-recent trip, some shot inside the nation, some shot across the border. And now you can see On the Spot with Kim Jong-il, 31 photos from North Korea's state-run "news" agency, showing Dear Leader, usually in a parka, inspecting various industrial facilities. It's an astonishing series of portraits of a man and a culture disconnected from reality, surveying an empire that does not exist.