Books by Kim Hyun Hee

Released: Oct. 22, 1993

Flagellatory mea culpa from a reformed North Korean terrorist who, in 1987, blew up a South Korean airliner, killing all 115 aboard. By Kim Hyun Hee's account, North Korea may be the cruelest nation on earth, but not much is known about it in the West—and so the 31-year-old author's depiction of life there, and of her stern upbringing under the rule of ``Our Great Leader,'' Kim Il Sung, is both revelatory and shocking (``It is North Korean law that anyone who insults the Kim family is punished by being bludgeoned to death with an iron bar''). Distinguished by her high grades, Kim Hyun Hee was tapped at 19 to train as a spy. Her description of the grueling training regimen, and of her final exam—which included a nighttime infiltration of a mock foreign embassy built in nearby woods—forms the suspenseful highlight of her tale. It's almost matched by her account of her sole mission—the Mideast bombing of the airplane, an act aimed at scaring away the 1988 Olympics from its probable South Korean venue—and of her almost instant capture, during which she tried to kill herself by chomping down on a cyanide-laced Marlboro. The rest of her story isn't so compelling, with the narrative gauzed over by guilt as the author details her extradition to South Korea, where she was convicted of murder but pardoned on grounds that she, too, was Communism's victim; her conversion to capitalism as she witnessed the wealth and freedom of Seoul; and her longings for her parents. Presumably a big seller in Korea and Japan, but Kim Hyun Hee's dramatic yet self-absorbed memoir isn't likely to find a large audience here—though American readers will be glad to know that the author's proceeds are earmarked for the families of her bombing victims. (Twenty b&w photographs—not seen) Read full book review >