March Diary
Thoughts on China, and more

Detail of a portrait of Dr. Johnson by Joshua Reynolds (1775)


John Derbyshire

The North Korean horrors     Our president went to take a look at North Korea. If he’d like some further insights into the place, here’s a book recommendation.

A book review recommendation, actually — I have not yet read the book. The review is by Old Asia Hand par excellence Jonathan Mirsky in the March issue of Literary Review. Name of the book: Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.

The one man is Shin Dong-hyuk, who is of course Korean. Shin was not merely a camp inmate: He was born in a camp, where his parents and older brother were incarcerated because his uncles had escaped to South Korea. As the book says, quoted by Mirsky: “Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home.”

Just the review makes grueling reading: Heaven only knows what the book is like. (I shall soon find out.) The human horror that is North Korea tests the imagination.

And the band played on     Peeking forward into April, the centenary of the Titanic sinking is almost upon us.

This ages me. No, no, I don’t remember the Titanic sinking — come on. I do, though, clearly remember the 50th anniversary, in 1962. I was in my penultimate year of high school, and just starting to take a serious interest in the large affairs of the world.

The warm-up seemed to have been going on for years. There was a Titanic book, which everyone had read, and a Titanic movie, which everyone had seen. Come the actual anniversary, there were survivors telling their tales on radio and TV. (Great flocks of them were still alive.)

My best friend had an elder brother who lived in London and affected the lifestyle of what later became known as a “young fogey” — old-fashioned styles of dress, manners, furniture, etc. I believe he actually owned a pair of spats. He was a major Titanic buff — had a lovely scale model of the ship in a glass case . . . 

Good grief: Reminiscing about past events is idle enough, but reminiscing about the anniversaries of events? I need to get out more.