Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Hunger Games

So how did this middle-aged bald guy end up getting riveted by a trilogy of young-adult science fiction novels?

In recent weeks, Z has been proclaiming the virtues of author Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy. Eventually, Julie picked up the books and has been moving through them at a ridiculously rapid pace. (Staying up until 4am over Thanksgiving break is one way to make that happen. Right, Julie!?) I guess all of this excitement has proven contagious, and here I now am, getting close to wrapping up the second book.

As proof that "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are," I find myself ascribing some perhaps unusual meanings to the pages that I'm turning. (As this isn't a review I'm writing here, you can check out any number of websites to get yourself up to speed, if interested.)

On the heels of our visit this summer to the area of China that borders North Korea and my reading of Barbara Demick's outstanding Nothing to Envy, I seem to be connecting a lot of what is going on in The Hunger Games to a certain impoverished and oppressed nation.

There is a capital city that is gleaming and modern when compared to the rest of the country. A city where hovercrafts fly, residents cover their bodies with outlandish painted designs, and the meals are feasts straight out of Willy Wonka's imagination. A city where no one is allowed to live or even visit, unless they have been hand-selected for the honor. (That's actually the way it is in Pyongyang, by the way. The parts about opulence and restricted movement. No signs of hovercrafts...yet.)

There are outlying provinces where people starve to death, or eat the bark off of trees in an effort to ward off the pangs of hunger. (North Korea has lost perhaps ten percent of its population to malnutrition over the past two decades. And because of the stunting of the growth of an entire generation, the military has lowered its minimum height requirements.)

There are electricity blackouts. And news blackouts, with the state totally controlling and manipulating what gets onto the airwaves and what gets censored. (There is no Internet in North Korea. And north of the Line of Demarcation is essentially all black when photographed from the sky at night.)

There is the absolute authority of the leadership and strict chain of command that enforces law and order right down to the smallest of community dwellings. (Family members sometimes serve as snitches against one another in Kim Jong-il's North Korea.)

The Hunger Games really are gripping books that I'm finding hard to put down. And I'm really finding it hard to get those little glimpses into North Korea out of my mind...



At 6:34 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

I heard Suzanne Collins speak at the National Book Festival in September and I've wanted to read the books ever since. Unfortunately, I also heard another author, Diana Gabaldon, speak and I started with her books. Her books are 1500 pages long and there's 7 of them so far... They're excellent, and I'm on the 6th one, but Hunger Games won't make it until 2011. It might be the first book I buy on our brand new Kindle though! I got one for Chris for Christmas. We haven't opened it yet. Now I'm excited!

At 9:24 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

I'm betting you'll enjoy the Collins books!


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