Homer's Travels: Book: Marcel Theroux's "The Sorcerer Of Pyongyang"

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Book: Marcel Theroux's "The Sorcerer Of Pyongyang"

I think I heard about this book either on Mastodon or in a TWiT (This Week in Tech) podcast - I can't remember.  Since Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) plays a role in the book and I considered (and turned down) an offer to join friends in an online D&D game, I picked it for my next read.

Marcel Theroux's novel "The Sorcerer of Pyongyang" follows a boy from Pyongyang, North Korea.  His father, who works in an international hotel, finds a 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide that had been left behind by a visitor's son.  His son discovers it and, with the help of a subversive teacher, begins translating it into Korean and starts playing.

The boy grows up and goes to college where he teaches the game to his friends (and his privileged hacker girlfriend) until the secret police arrest him and send him to reeducation camp for nine years.  His girlfriend, now married to one of the royal Kim family, gets him released.

The journey of the boy from a peasant during a famine, to the subhuman treatment in the prison colony, to the hobnobbing with the elite in Pyongyang is fascinating.  The contrasts of how he lives in each stage of his life are stark.  You see all the contradictions in North Korean society.

The only part I didn't like when the author changes narrators.  The first part is narrated by the boy mostly but the last section is narrated by the author.  This last section also ties up the end very quickly and in too nice of a package for my taste.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  I really liked this read except for the unfortunate wrap up at the end.

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