Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Bamboo and Blood

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Bamboo and Blood

An Inspector O Novel

by James Church

Bamboo and Blood by James Church
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2008, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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North Korea
James Church paints a grim picture of what life is like and how a government agency functions within North Korea. It is a picture in bold contrast to the one portrayed by the official website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPR). The ideals, as stated by Kim Il-Sung, predecessor to current leader Kim Jong Il, are that, "the superior organism always help [sic] the inferior one. The superior always assist [sic] the subordinates and he goes always to the working areas to understand the real situation and take [sic] the correct measures to solve the problems; he gives preference to the political work, to the people's work in all the activities, and improves the enthusiasm and the creative initiative of the masses to accomplish the revolutionary tasks." One would be hard pressed to recognize these principles in either the accounts of the fictional Inspector O or in the picture of North Korea obtained through current media reports.

The CIA World Factbook describes a country that is in a state of severe social and economic decline. The unembellished facts, compared to, say, neighboring South Korea, tell a story that would be disturbing to most Western sensibilities. For one, theirs is a judicial system based on the Prussian Civil Code. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, under this system, among other things, political dissent is severely punished and censorship is strictly enforced. It is perhaps telling that whereas the CIA Factbook lists political pressure groups in most countries, there are no entries for such groups in North Korea.

The function of the police in a totalitarian state* such as North Korea is interesting as well. As explained by the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Police operations within a totalitarian state often appear similar to those within a police state, but one important difference distinguishes them. In a police state the police operate according to known, consistent procedures. In a totalitarian state the police operate without the constraints of laws and regulations. Their actions are unpredictable and directed by the whim of their rulers." Inspector O might be inclined to agree.

Sadly, what is clear is that in the 60 years since the splitting of Korea into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and South Korea (each with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems), South Korea has developed into one of the richest countries in Asia, with a fully functioning democracy; whereas the DPR suffers from an extremely weak economy, with millions of people barely subsisting in famine conditions, unreliable to nonexistent basic services and a leader who seems indifferent to his country's plight. A sad state of affairs for a country that has a rich cultural history dating back thousands of years.

Totalitarianism* is a concept used to describe a single-party political system where the state regulates almost every aspect of life, both public and private. Power is maintained by means of an official all-embracing ideology and propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media; backed up by severe restrictions on trade, free speech and so on; with mass surveillance and widespread use of terror tactics used to keep people in check.

Article by Donna Chavez

This article was originally published in January 2009, and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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