By Jang Jin-sung
Atria Books, 2014. 339 pgs. Nonfiction
Having shown his gifts as a poet while still a teenager, Jang was given a job in North Korea’s United Front Department, the government section responsible for inter-Korean espionage. Honored by being invited to meet Kim Jong-il because of his poetry, he becomes one of the “Admitted,” making him virtually immune to punishment for any infraction without approval from the “Great Leader” himself. In his work he was allowed to read and study books, newspapers and magazines from South Korea so that he could write propaganda as though it had been written in South Korea. Gradually Jang becomes disillusioned with the government of North Korea. Having lived his whole life in Pyongyang, he is horrified when he visits a friend in the countryside and sees the starvation and poverty of ordinary North Koreans. When he violates the rules of his job and loans a restricted book to a friend he suddenly finds himself being investigated by his unit. Knowing that it is only a matter of time before he is arrested, he and his friend cross the Tumen River into China.
This memoir is far different from other recent books about refugees from North Korea because the author is so familiar with the propaganda tools and techniques of the North Korean government. He was an insider who experienced the privileged lifestyle of the elites close to Kim Jong-il. He is also a gifted writer, and currently the editor of a website that reports on North Korea. I highly recommend this memoir to those who are interested in North Korea.