The Documentary Podcast
Barbara Demick: True stories from North Korea
North Korea and Tibet are two of the most tightly-controlled societies on earth, and as a consequence their peoples are often misunderstood by the world’s media, caricatured respectively as aggressive communists and spiritual hermits. But Barbara Demick, former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Seoul and Beijing, confesses that she likes a challenge, and so set out to build a more nuanced picture of individuals’ real lives in both places. Moreover, she did this with minimal location reporting; indeed in the case of North Korea, she never visited the city she wrote about at all. Using an almost forensic level of investigation, Demick conducted lengthy and highly detailed interviews with people who had left both places, cross-referencing testimonies and drawing on additional research to corroborate their accounts. She then used the resulting material to inform a vivid, factual storytelling style that she calls narrative non-fiction. As she explains in conversation with Owen Bennett-Jones, it is a difficult process, but one that yields fascinating insight into places whose repressive leaders would rather we knew far less about.
Producer: Michael Gallagher
Editor: Bridget Harney
(Image: Soldiers at a military parade in North Korea. Credit: EPA/How Hwee Young)