Translated by: Shirley Lee
Publisher: Penguin, 2014.
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Dear Leader contains astonishing new insights about North Korea which could only be revealed by someone working high up in the regime. It is also the gripping story of how a member of the inner circle of this enigmatic country became its most courageous, outspoken critic.
Jang Jin-sung held one of the most senior ranks in North Korea’s propaganda machine, helping tighten the regime’s grip over its people. Among his tasks were developing the founding myth of North Korea, posing undercover as a South Korean intellectual and writing epic poems in support of the dictator, Kim Jong-il.
Young and ambitious, his patriotic work secured him a bizarre audience with Kim Jong-il himself, thus granting him special status as one of the ‘Admitted’. This meant special food provisions, a travel pass and immunity from prosecution and harm. He was privy to state secrets, including military and diplomatic policies, how the devastating ‘Scrutiny’ was effected, and the real position of one of the country’s most powerful, elusive men, Im Tong-ok. Because he was praised by the Dear Leader himself, he had every reason to feel satisfied with his lot and safe.
Yet he could not ignore his conscience, or the disparity between his life and that of those he saw starving on the street. After breaking security rules, Jang Jin-sung, together with a close friend, was forced to flee for his life: away from lies and deceit, towards truth and freedom.
A real page-turner that will appeal to many types of readers, including people who like a good adventure story (the passages describing Jang’s evasion of Chinese and North Korean security forces once he has fled from the North Korean capital are genuinely exciting) and of course to amateur and professional Pyongyangologists (for the eye-opening passages about in the ins and outs of North Korean politics and the fascinating details about the regime and North-South relations).For me, what I found equally interesting were the passages of the book that dealt with Jang’s artistic background. He ended up as one of Kim Jong-il’s favourite poets, but originally he was destined to be a pianist.
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