In North Korea: Lives and Lies in the State of Truth

At dawn the curtain rises on an empty stage. Actors stand poised in the dark. Dancers and singers wait in the wings for their cue. Musicians hold their instruments to their lips and bodies, at the ready, ever ready for the nod of the director, waiting for the show to begin.

In North Korea every scene of life has been scripted, every public performance rehearsed, every political proclamation calculated to convince and coerce. Its 23 million people live in a kind of national theatre, cast in the role of players and audience alike, as well as those of choreographers, prompters and stage managers. On the spotless streets of the capital Pyongyang and the pine-fringed beaches of Wonsan, from the bustling canteen at the elite Kim Chaek University to the silent soup queues at Kaechon Penal Labour Camp 14, North Koreans act out their lives as if on a stage, tailoring their performance for partners, neighbours, co-workers and political commissars, knowing that their every move is watched.

‘In North Korea’ photographer Nick Danziger and I travel across the country not to sensationalise the theatricality of massed marches, goose-stepping automatons and posture politics. We don’t rehash national tragedies, demonise leaders or report on its concentration camps. Instead we try to step backstage, to catch a glimpse of life away from the performance, as it is lived in the world’s most secretive nation, at a turning point in its history.

‘In North Korea’ is published worldwide as an ebook by wander2wonder Press. The 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival commissioned an extract for ‘The Freedom Papers’ which was read on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.