Book Title: Dear Leader
Author: Jang Jin-Sung
My Review Rating: 4/5
North Korea or hermit kingdom has always fascinated me and the more I read about this secretive little kingdom, the more intriguing I become at how little I know about this country. Also, the other books of North Korean escapees that I have read have largely been written by the less privileged ones and since this book is written by a member of the inner circle-seemingly of a person who held a position of knowledge within the regime, hence I thought it would be a great way of expanding my knowledge on the subject and becoming one of the best books I have read about North Korea.
The Author, Jang was a talented musician – a pianist – but he came to the attention of the ‘Dear leader’ Kim Jong-Il through his poetry and at an early stage became one of those working in a department responsible for propaganda and story-telling, having access to South Korean and other foreign books, papers and magazines with a view to writing Kim-praising articles as if he were a South Korean who wanted to move to the North. The author also describes in details the working of his propaganda office and like any other workplace politics, the author’s office / department was constantly at war with other department to win eulogies from the leader himself. However, after an incident in which it is discovered that the author has borrowed a forbidden book (that in first instance itself shouldn’t have left his office anyways) but got lost and was found in a train compartment, he and his friend decide to flee the country for sake of their lives. They use their contacts and privileges to get travel passes to the border to flee into China without even informing their families – ultimately sealing their families fate in the hands of the cruel regime.
Once they smuggle into China, it marks the beginning of their long horrendous journey before they can finally reach South Korea and here the book seems to become archetype. Almost all of the books about North Korea that I have read almost tell-tale similar experiences in China of the protagonists getting helped and betrayal by many people including their brethren from North Korea. Therefore, the remainder of the book becomes almost similar to other Korean escapee books and I do not find anything here remarkably different from the others.
However, having said the above but I still affirm this is an absolutely fascinating book – the one to read to get a good hand on North Korea. It is a beautifully written, moving, terrifying account. The chapters set in North-Korea are very interesting for the detailed information on the lives and workings of the upper echelons and the lesser privilege ones. The author describes his story in such an engaging and gripping way that it seems to come straight from the heart. I’ve enjoyed this book immensely and will like to recommended it to everyone who wants to learn about this secretive little kingdom.