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Book of the Month: May 2014 – Dear Leader

Book of the Month: May 2014 – Dear Leader

Dear Leader // Jang Jin-Sung

Behind every great leader there is a propaganda machine creating their desired public image. In North Korea this propaganda machine once included, Jang Jin-sung, a poet who rose quickly through the ranks of the country’s elite. Eventually he was granted the patronage of and a meeting with Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s once omnipresent leader.

In his role at the top of North Korea’s political elite he wrote epic poems about the ‘Dear Leader’, Kim Jong-il, built up the myth story about North Korea’s founding and acted as a spy within the ranks of South Korea’s intellectual elite. He achieved a position in the ‘Hidden Kingdom‘ of North Korea that few could dream of, giving him access to state secrets that only a handful of people were ever privy to.

In Dear Leader Jang Jin-sung opens North Korea to the world. In this famously closed state few realities ever leak out, but within these pages Jang has broken through the myths and global stereotypes to present the reader with the real North Korea.

Even within the opening pages of the prologue you get a sense of the North Korea that world has not seen. In Jang’s description of the ‘Extraordinary Summons’ you get a sense of the personal paranoia of Kim Jong-il, their precarious position with other nations and the violent undercurrent that cuts through the heart of the state.

The world Jang talks about appears to present two distinct versions of the North Korean state. The first is the North Korea experienced by ordinary citizens; the power outages, the strict police state, the indoctrination of the nation’s youth. The second version is the unseen version. This state is the exclusive state inhabited by the Kim’s and their inner circle. In this life the leader is revealed as mortal; a normal person, but one whose power is unrivaled across the world. He has a personal army ready to carry out his every whim or wish, beautifully appointed estates, personal privileges (including exclusive railway stations) and the ability to change the course of the North Korean state through a single sentence.

But Dear Leader is not simply the story of the North Korean elite. If it was, the story would never have emerged. Instead it would have stayed unspoken in the mind of Jang Jin-sung. Dear Leader is in-fact the story of Jang’s rise and fall through the hierarchy of North Korea. During this fall from grace Jang was forced to flee the state and in these chapters his escape to China is played out in harrowing detail.

It all started with a visit to his home town. This was no socialist, utopian paradise or example of their ‘Dear Leader’s supreme governance, but rather a demonstration of the realities in North Korea. This was a town of starvation and it shocked Jang. The doubts established in his first meeting with Kim Kong-il, where he saw the frailties of the leader, only grew once he saw the frailties of the state.

Then came a simple exchange between two intellectuals; a forbidden book passed from Jang to his friend, Hwang Young-min, a famous and successful composer. This book sparked the beginning of Jang’s end. After the secret police find out the two colleagues; the poet and the composer fled to China. However, in China, there is little refuge for a North Korean runaway. In the time that followed their arrival into China they are forced underground, always fearful that they would have to return to North Korea. During this time the two separated and whilst Jang survived, Hwang committed suicide.

Jang’s journey ended in the South Korean embassy in Beijing, a place the poet could finally feel safe.

Dear Leader is, beyond doubt, one of the most enlightening and engaging books to have been written in years. Rarely do readers get the chance to look behind the high walls of the world’s most secretive state, but in this book North Korea is opened up. Kim Jong-il is presented as a human, rather than the larger-than-life character the world saw and the state’s flaws are clear, like scars, across this Far Eastern nation.

Powerful, moving and enthralling this book marks a point in history. A point where the world was let inside the court of the Kim’s and North Korea was revealed as never before.

Dear Leader

RRP: £20 // Rider Books // 2014

“There is no need for…

“There is no need for…

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness”. Tenzin Gyasto, Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhist Leader, 1950-Present) Some inspirational words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama to start our Far East Season on A Little View of the World Continue Reading

Book of the Month: April, 2014 – A House In the Sky

Book of the Month: April, 2014 – A House In the Sky

A House in the Sky, is an account of a woman’s desperate attempts to survive kidnap and imprisonment by Islamic fundamentalists, driven by ideology and greed. It is a memoir that starkly outlines the realities of nations across the world. However, it is also a writing rooted in hope and a resilience; a memoir that states clearly that there are barriers in life, some apparently insurmountable, but with a strong inner belief you are able to achieve the next step, for there is always a next step. Continue Reading

Why Can’t the French Love their Leaders?

Why Can’t the French Love their Leaders?

Leaders are always held to a higher standard than ordinary people; their lives judged and analysed to a degree that few people will ever experience. Understandably this turns leaders into polarising figures; that inspire both great love, but also great anger. In France, however, leaders face a greater challenge than their global counterparts; the challenge to win the approval of the French public. Continue Reading

20 Years On, Has Africa Learnt the Lessons of Rwanda?

20 Years On, Has Africa Learnt the Lessons of Rwanda?

In April, 1994 a wave of violence spread through the small African nation of Rwanda, dividing the country between the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s and causing the deaths of close to a million people. It was one of the worst genocides in history and created a scar across the heart of Africa. But has Africa learnt from the tragedy of this genocide, has it moved on? Continue Reading

Book of the Month: March, 2014 – Americanah/Half of a Yellow Sun

Book of the Month: March, 2014 – Americanah/Half of a Yellow Sun

We can learn as much from fiction as we can from non-fiction. Within stories there is a subtlety and human emotion that is often lacking in non-fiction and this March I have chosen two novels which will open up the world to their readers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the Nigerian author behind both novels and in her writings she not only lays Nigeria bare but explores everything from conflict, love, race, wealth and the weight of history. Continue Reading

“Protest Beyond the Law…”

“Protest Beyond the Law…”

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” Howard Zinn, (American Social Activist and Writer, 1922-2010) Reflecting on the events in Ukraine I believe that the protesters are exercising the fundamental principle of democracy. They are standing up against those in government who follow actions not for… Continue Reading

Book of the Month: Feb, 2014 – The Almost Nearly Perfect People

Book of the Month: Feb, 2014 – The Almost Nearly Perfect People

It will surprise few people to learn that Scandinavia is world renowned as a ‘cool’ region. The politics, TV, music, food and culture of Scandinavia has created the image of ‘nearly perfect’ nations. Booth attempts, in The Almost Nearly Perfect People, to work out if the ‘Nordic miracle’ is true. Michael Booth has produced one of the most interesting and accomplished pieces of travel writing in many years. The Almost Nearly Perfect People, is a witty account of a region’s highs and lows and a must read for all of us who have been absorbed by the ‘Nordic Miracle’. Continue Reading

Book of the Month: Jan, 2014 – Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

Book of the Month: Jan, 2014 – Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

Few nations have experienced the great highs and lows that Japan has experienced over the last 100 years. It has gone from a feudal society, to a global empire and from an economic powerhouse to a nation stagnating in a rapidly changing global system. But throughout it all Japan’s greatest skill has been to survive. It is this theme that Pilling explores so brilliantly in Bending Adversity. Continue Reading

MINT’s, BRIC’s: Do They Mean Anything?

MINT’s, BRIC’s: Do They Mean Anything?

A new global grouping, the MINT’s (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) has emerged. The announcement has sparked debate amongst observers, journalists and economists. MINT and BRIC nations are those who have the potential to become leading economic and political powers. They are nations to get excited by, nations whose inclusion to this elite global grouping gives them strength and validity within the international system. But do these terms actually mean anything? Continue Reading

World Review: Top 25 Events, 2013

World Review: Top 25 Events, 2013

2013 has been a dramatic year for global politics. Conflict and terrorism continued to threaten the stability of the world system. Financial recovery was the focus on many government’s energy and despite some setback growth and stability has started to emerge. It was also a year in which several key figures of international politics died, whilst we also welcomed a future royal leader. 2013 has been a year of great highs and lows and many of this year’s biggest stories will still be talked about well into 2014. Continue Reading

World Review: Top 40 People in Politics, 2013 (20-1)

World Review: Top 40 People in Politics, 2013 (20-1)

2013’s Top 20 people include world politicians, international financial leaders, activists fighting for education, freedom of speech and development. From all over the world these include young royals just starting to make an impact and religious leaders whose impact has been remarkable. Find out who made this year’s Top Twenty. Continue Reading

World Review: Top 40 People in Politics, 2013 (40-21)

World Review: Top 40 People in Politics, 2013 (40-21)

2013’s Top 40 includes world leaders, activists, religious and financial figures and many more who have impacted the world this year. From 40-21 these people have been at the heart of some of the year’s biggest stories and they include terrorists and rebel groups and an international icon whose death was a global event. Check out who made our Top Forty. Continue Reading