The Short Happy Life of the Ryugyong Hotel

Parallax Journal of International Perspectives
Volume V, No. 1, (Fall 2008)
Michael Madden

Download the PDF here: maddenarticle.pdf

Abstract: Called the “Worst building in the history of mankind” by Esquire Magazine, North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel is one of the twenty tallest buildings in the world, despite being little more than a desolate concrete shell.  How the building came to be constructed and who constructed it becomes a small cultural history lesson on the secretive communist state.

About the author: Michael Madden studied writing with Stratis Haviaras and LArry Heinenmann, and spent several years under the tutelage of Christopher Ricks.  He is currently working on a satellite map of Pyongyang juring Japan’s annexation of the Korean Penninsula from 1910 to 1945.  Mr. Madden is a member of the association of Literary Scholars and Critics.  He works with the Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.


2 Responses to “The Short Happy Life of the Ryugyong Hotel”

  1. Robert Bird says:

    I much enjoyed reading Mr. Madden’s article. At the end, he critcizes Bradley Martin’s popular text “In the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader” as “not a serious book.” Any thought as to why or about the book generally? I found it to be a worthwhile read but wondered what weaknesses I did not perceive. Thanks.

  2. Mike Madden says:

    The phrase “not a serious book” was facetious. The sentence, and my sniveling commentary on Mr. Martin’s work, are weak writing. In that little endnote , I also neglected a couple of valuable print and web sources, such as Curtis’s fantastic Google Earth of DPRK and Chris Springer’s excellent Pyongyang: The Hidden History of the North Korean Capital (Budapest, HU: Entente Bt, 2003).

    As to Bradley Martin’s not so loving care of the Fatherly Leader; I wish Mr. Martin had written two books, one about Korean defectors and, a straight-forward biography of the Kims. His breadth of intelligence and affection for the defectors and their stories overwhelms the biography. From the perspective of a historian, Mr. Martin’s tone is too emotive. There’s a certain point where I wished to hear less about shaming sessions and prison camps and more about weapons systems or skullduggery in the KWP.

    But these are selfish quibbles. Every writer needs a twig to take hold of the bundle. Anyone trafficking in the affairs of Pyongyang has to fill out the DPRK information vacuum. Bradley Martin is one of the NK generalist’s best friends and I’d slate this work in the top half-dozen DPRK texts for a general audience.