DEAR LEADER by Jang Jin-sung
Kirkus Star


Poet, Spy, Escapee--a Look Inside North Korea
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A defector of Kim Jong-il’s rarefied inner circle reveals the desperate, despicable machinations of North Korea’s police state.

“North Korea’s opacity is its greatest strength,” writes New Focus International editor in chief Jin-sung in this powerful, heart-rending tale of one young man’s ability to infiltrate the locus of power, then escape. At age 28, in 1999, upon the publication of his ingratiating epic poem “Spring Rests on the Gun Barrel of the Lord,” written for Kim Jong-il, Jin-sung earned a personal endorsement of the Great Leader and the privilege of immunity as one of the few “Admitted” in the upper cadre of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers’ Party, which wielded the real power behind the leader. As one of the revered “court poets” and an employee of the United Front Department, which comprised the party’s intelligence and propaganda hub, the author had access to all kinds of South Korean literature in his work of “localization,” which attempted to influence South Korea by imitating its “ways of thought.” His elevation also proved his downfall, however, as he began questioning the party line fed to him. A trip home to the provincial town of Sariwon, vastly changed in the 10 years since he had last been there and reeling from the collapse of the economy, opened his eyes. The people were dropping dead from famine, so poor that they were selling water to wash one’s face and cotton comforters made painstakingly from the filters of cigarette butts, while Jin-sung, the party elite, habitually received foreign rations when they had none. Against the rules, the author loaned a South Korean biography of Kim Jong-il to his trusted friend, the composer Hwang Young-min, but the book got lost, forcing the two to go on the lam to China.

An exciting escape closes this urgent, well-rendered attempt to penetrate North Korea’s cynical, criminal power strategy.

Pub Date: May 13th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6655-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: 37 Ink/Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2014


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