Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea
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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.
compared to the scars in his heart. In the early 1980s, the North Korean state had decided that the presence of disabled citizens in Pyongyang was an affront to the beauty of the city, and banished them en masse to the countryside. Kim Sang-o’s only daughter, who had a physical disability, was left behind in Hwanghae Province when the rest of the family was instructed to relocate to Pyongyang. That woman was my friend Su-ryon’s mother. On the day of my first visit, Kim Sang-o took great pains to
state-level visitors to North Korea. The UFD operates several guesthouses, such as Ui-Am and Soonan. Among these, the Munsu Guesthouse had previously been used for those defecting to the North. Situated as it was in the residential area of No. 3 Chungryu-dong in the wealthy Daedong River district of east Pyongyang, not even the local residents knew that this L-shaped building was used for classified UFD operations. The interior of the high-walled compound was extravagantly appointed and, in
of “dictatorship’ understood by the outside world, Kim Jong-il wielded a double-edged sword: yes, he was a dictator by means of physical control, but he was also a dictator in a more subtle and pervasive sense—through his absolute power over the cultural identity of his people. As with socialism, where ideology is more important than material goods, he monopolized the media and the arts as a crucial part of his ambit of absolute power. This is why every single writer in North Korea produces works
Korea, you could take a bath, have a sauna, and stay the night all in one establishment. When I plunged up to my neck into a large hot tub, washing off the dirt I’d accumulated since we’d left Pyongyang, it seemed as though all my suffering was being washed away too. Even the hot water overflowing from the tub was miraculous. By 1994, when the central heating system of Pyongyang had all but collapsed, hot water had become a rare privilege. In November 1998, just before the start of winter, the
excitement at the thought that Young-min might be safe. Even a man in beige clothes sitting in front of me on the bus seemed to look like Young-min from behind. In my optimism, I decided that I could afford to eat two more bread rolls. I looked at the remaining three and convinced myself that there were now fewer days to wait before I would see Young-min again. As I idly played the piano on the back of the empty seat in front me, my fingers paused. In the netted pocket of the seat before me,