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Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Korea

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ISBN13: 9781476766553
ISBN10: 147676655x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Publisher Comments:

THE STORY THEY COULDN'T HACK: In this rare insider’s view into contemporary North Korea, a high-ranking counterintelligence agent describes his life as a former poet laureate to Kim Jong-il and his breathtaking escape to freedom.

“The General will now enter the room.”

Everyone turns to stone. Not moving my head, I direct my eyes to a point halfway up the archway where Kim Jong-il’s face will soon appear…

As North Korea’s State Poet Laureate, Jang Jin-sung led a charmed life. With food provisions (even as the country suffered through its great famine), a travel pass, access to strictly censored information, and audiences with Kim Jong-il himself, his life in Pyongyang seemed safe and secure. But this privileged existence was about to be shattered. When a strictly forbidden magazine he lent to a friend goes missing, Jang Jin-sung must flee for his life.

Never before has a member of the elite described the inner workings of this totalitarian state and its propaganda machine. An astonishing exposé told through the heart-stopping story of Jang Jin-sung’s escape to South Korea, Dear Leader is a rare and unprecedented insight into the world’s most secretive and repressive regime.

Review:

"A North Korean defector finds fleeing the Kim dictatorship as nightmarish as living under it in this harrowing memoir. Jang, now a journalist in South Korea, worked in the North Korean government's United Front Department for espionage and psy-war penning propaganda; he won fame, riches ('individual rations on a weekly basis, instead of household rations'), and a Kafkaesque audience with Kim Jong-Il for a fulsome poem praising the Dear Leader ('Lord of the Gun/ Lord of Justice/ Lord of Peace/ Lord of Unification'). Jang's rare high-level insider's perspective on the North Korean system is especially eye-opening; drawing from secret archives, he relates how devious bureaucrat Kim Jong-il usurped the power of his father Kim Il-sung, but he hits hardest in scenes juxtaposing the frenzied glorification of the Kim cult with the starvation and brutalization he witnessed among ordinary people. Much of the book is a thriller-like narrative of Jang's 2004 escape into the netherworld of illegal North Korean refugees in China, where he drifts, penniless and hunted by the police, through the glittering wealth and hard-edged anomie of modern Chinese cities, dependent on the kindness of random strangers. Jang's almost impossibly dramatic story is one of the best depictions yet of North Korea's nightmare. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

"Jang Jin-sung demonstrates unique insight into the lifestyle and power structures of North Korea's top elite. The tale, ending with his own dramatic escape, depicts Jang's gradual metamorphosis from total conformist, to serious doubter, to enemy of the state. Dear Leader is a compelling story told with the elegance and poetry of the Orient: a page-turner that will change the way the world sees this enigmatic country." Susanne Koelbl, Der Spiegel

Review:

"Gripping." David Pilling, Financial Times

Review:

"An exciting escape closes this urgent, well-rendered attempt to penetrate North Korea's cynical, criminal power strategy." Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

Review:

"A remarkable story of struggle and survival." Larry Getlen, The New York Post

Review:

"A singular and powerful story, rare not only in its portrait of the inner workings of Pyongyang’s elite circles, but rare because a true writer — almost unheard of in North Korea — was there to see it and to tell it.” Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son

Review:

"Mr Jang makes no claim to speak from within Kim Jong Il's closest circle. But as a poet laureate, on the inside of the Kims' mythmaking machine, he sheds new light both on the dynasty's ideological underpinnings and on what he calls 'the tantrums of a defeated man.'" The Economist

About the Author

Jang Jin-sung is a former poet laureate for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Since leaving the country he has become a bestselling author and widely solicited commentator on North Korea. He has been awarded the Rex Warner Literary Prize and read his poetry at London’s Cultural Olympiad in 2012. He now lives in South Korea and is editor in chief of New Focus International, an authoritative website reporting on North Korea.

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nrlymrtl, November 23, 2014 (view all comments by nrlymrtl)
In this nonfiction tale of living and working in North Korea, Jang Jin-sung takes the reader through his life from a young age, through his schooling successes, his recognition by the Dear Leader himself (Kim Jong-il), and then to his flight from North Korea to China and eventually South Korea. I found this book fascinating. Granted, part of that fascination was due to my near total ignorance of North Korean politics and culture. And yet, I believe this book could hold the attention of those well read on the subject. Jang makes the information very accessible by bringing the reader into his life and his culture.

When I picked this book up, I thought it would be an educational, if a bit stuffy, read. Instead, I was riveted. I didn’t want to put it away in the evening and I found myself regurgitating tidbits of what I had learned to my man over dinner. Jang shares several anecdotes from his life that helped me to understand how tightly controlled the country is, how devoid of outside information it is. Having a book of classic English poetry in ones possession is dangerous. The image of the Dear Leader is nearly everywhere and is treated almost like a spiritual icon. At a young age, Jang was instructed to become a musician; however, this was not his calling. Yet it was very difficult to change the course of his education. As an American, I have so many freedoms and this book shined a new light on those freedoms and deepened my appreciation for them.

Eventually, Jang got a job in the government’s propaganda department. He was now legally sanctioned to view/read/listen to art, news, magazines, movies, music, etc. from outside North Korea. His focus was imitating the style of South Korean poets in order to write and have published (in South Korea) pieces that shined a positive light on North Korea. Now I figure every country has a propaganda department, but I was surprised at how controlled and insidious the North Korean department was.

The book has its poignant moments as well. Jang is given a week’s paid vacation and he wishes to visit his home village from his childhood (both he and his parents live in the capitol city of Pyongyang for the majority of the book). This allows hi to describe the difficulties inherent in traveling the country (so many checkpoints and train delays). Then he describes the state of his home village and the people (this is during North Korea’s great famine). Later in the book, Jang and friend must escape North Korea. There are plenty of desperate moments on that journey that show just how precarious their situation is. With so very little news and culture allowed into North Korean, many North Koreans know no other language. You can imagine how this would hinder their escape and make them stand out. This book also offers moments of great trust between one human and another, not only in North Korea but also in China. It was uplifting to see that so many people had a conscience and tried, even in a some small way, to make the situation better.

And then there was all the weird stuff �" North Korean women paid and required to sleep with prominent politicians or business men from other countries and bear their children (who would be used as game pieces in politics); the whole Admitted cadre that grants the members extra food and political considerations; many songs are about Dear Leader (in a good light) or are whistling (as no one and nothing can be held in higher esteem than the North Korean leader). The list goes on. I won’t spoil things for you; just know that this book is a trove of cultural tidbits that I had not heard of before.

Over all, this book reads very quickly. There was one or two points where the narrative bogged a little in history of North Korea, but in my case I think this was due to information overload. 99% of the info in this book was brand new to me so in the few cases where lots of North Korean politician names were bandied about, I became a little lost. Still, that is a very minor negative in comparison with the wealth of knowledge I gained from this book.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781476766553
Subtitle:
Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Korea
Author:
Jin-sung, Jang
Publisher:
Atria / 37 Ink
Subject:
Political
Subject:
Biography-Political
Edition Description:
Hardback
Publication Date:
20140531
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
228.6 x 152.4 mm

Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Biography
Featured Titles » New Arrivals » Nonfiction
History and Social Science » Asia » Korea
History and Social Science » World History » Asia » General
History and Social Science » World History » Korea

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Korea Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$19.50 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Atria / 37 Ink - English 9781476766553 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "A North Korean defector finds fleeing the Kim dictatorship as nightmarish as living under it in this harrowing memoir. Jang, now a journalist in South Korea, worked in the North Korean government's United Front Department for espionage and psy-war penning propaganda; he won fame, riches ('individual rations on a weekly basis, instead of household rations'), and a Kafkaesque audience with Kim Jong-Il for a fulsome poem praising the Dear Leader ('Lord of the Gun/ Lord of Justice/ Lord of Peace/ Lord of Unification'). Jang's rare high-level insider's perspective on the North Korean system is especially eye-opening; drawing from secret archives, he relates how devious bureaucrat Kim Jong-il usurped the power of his father Kim Il-sung, but he hits hardest in scenes juxtaposing the frenzied glorification of the Kim cult with the starvation and brutalization he witnessed among ordinary people. Much of the book is a thriller-like narrative of Jang's 2004 escape into the netherworld of illegal North Korean refugees in China, where he drifts, penniless and hunted by the police, through the glittering wealth and hard-edged anomie of modern Chinese cities, dependent on the kindness of random strangers. Jang's almost impossibly dramatic story is one of the best depictions yet of North Korea's nightmare. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "Jang Jin-sung demonstrates unique insight into the lifestyle and power structures of North Korea's top elite. The tale, ending with his own dramatic escape, depicts Jang's gradual metamorphosis from total conformist, to serious doubter, to enemy of the state. Dear Leader is a compelling story told with the elegance and poetry of the Orient: a page-turner that will change the way the world sees this enigmatic country."
"Review" by , "Gripping."
"Review" by , "An exciting escape closes this urgent, well-rendered attempt to penetrate North Korea's cynical, criminal power strategy."
"Review" by , "A remarkable story of struggle and survival."
"Review" by , "A singular and powerful story, rare not only in its portrait of the inner workings of Pyongyang’s elite circles, but rare because a true writer — almost unheard of in North Korea — was there to see it and to tell it.”
"Review" by , "Mr Jang makes no claim to speak from within Kim Jong Il's closest circle. But as a poet laureate, on the inside of the Kims' mythmaking machine, he sheds new light both on the dynasty's ideological underpinnings and on what he calls 'the tantrums of a defeated man.'"
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