NORTH KOREA UNDERCOVER
By John Sweeney. (Pegasus Books, 294 pages, $27.95.)
John Sweeney toured North Korea for eight days in 2013 with a group of students from the London School of Economics. He posed as a college professor, and it’s a certainty he won’t be let back in again.
Sweeney, who also interviewed defectors and offers their stories, describes North Korea as an evil state where almost nothing is as it seems. Everywhere, there are photos of the past two presidents, Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, who was leading the country when a famine killed as many as 3 million of his people.
The present regime, headed by Kim Jung Un, keeps its power over the masses. “Not once … did we see an indication of dissent, a suggestion that people were not enthralled with the regime,” Sweeney writes. “In North Korea, everything stays the same.”
Sports copy editor
THE WIND IN THE REEDS
By Wendell Pierce. (Riverhead Books, 344 pages, $27.95.)
With “The Wind in the Reeds,” Wendell Pierce provides a unique look at New Orleans, both before and after Hurricane Katrina. The memoir of his life and his city proves that the producer and actor best known for roles in “The Wire” and “Treme” can write, too. His prose is sometimes saccharine, sometimes cliché, but it is always heartfelt and instructional.
By the end of the book, Pierce had given me a new perspective on his hometown. His family — the descendants of slaves — worked tenaciously and forged a home in the first subdivision in the city for African-Americans. Pierce left that world and his family for Julliard in New York City. After his return, Katrina turned his old neighborhood into a wasteland. In the midst of the wreckage, he staged “Waiting for Godot” in two of the hardest-hit sections of New Orleans. In such settings, the play became a haunting symbol of the city’s wait for help.
Likewise, the tale of the Pierce family’s unyielding determination to rise against odds becomes its own symbol, encapsulating why the city and its citizens would recover from the storm. In this memoir, Pierce celebrates his family’s generations-long story, the city’s history and the power of art to heal.
KERRI WESTENBERG, Travel editor