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Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Koreaby Jang Jin-sung
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.
"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
"Gripping." David Pilling, Financial Times
"An exciting escape closes this urgent, well-rendered attempt to penetrate North Korea's cynical, criminal power strategy." Kirkus Reviews (Starred)
"A remarkable story of struggle and survival." Larry Getlen, The New York Post
"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
"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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