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Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea Hardcover – May 13 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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  • Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atria / 37 INK; Tra edition (May 13 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 147676655X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476766553
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #36,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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."

"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)

"A remarkable story of struggle and survival." (Larry Getlen The New York Post)

"A look inside the mysteries of North Korea by the former poet laureate for the late Kim Jong-il. Likely to fascinate anyone who's read Adam Johnson's Pulitzer-winning novel The Orphan Master's Son." (Jocelyn McClurg USA Today)

"An exciting escape closes this urgent, well-rendered attempt to penetrate North Korea's cynical, criminal power strategy." (Kirkus Reviews (Starred))

"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)

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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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I give this book 4 stars for its content, not its prose. It offers great insight into the inner workings of government in North Korea as well as the dichotomy between life in the capital (Pyongyang) and the rest of North Korean society. It also offers a much more in-depth (and likely more accurate) explanation for Kim Jong Il's rise to power - which was not simply inherited as some American-authors have written. I was left feeling both a greater respect and a greater disdain for the late Kim Jong Il, seeing how he spent years diligently manipulating others and the system of government to raise the Kim Dynasty to its current godly status and simultaneously reducing the North Korean people to their current deplorable state of living.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I enjoyed Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-sung a lot. It's an amazing look behind the curtain of the hermit kingdom of North Korea, as well as a story of the will to survive.

Jang Jin-sung was a poet who was part of The Admitted, a group of people who were considered closest to Kim Jong-il. He worked for a department responsible for "propaganda writing" that appeared to come from sympathetic South Korean writers. He had access to material and writings from South Korea to help him assume the right tone and identity, but that also led to a growing disillusionment with the leadership within the country. He couldn't reconcile the words and actions of the government (mostly lies) with the reality of what was happening to its citizens. The vast majority of the citizenry were starving, people were jailed and executed for perceived slights against Kim Jong-il, and government cronies were getting perks that the average person would never know.

Jang Jin-sung decided he couldn't take this any longer, so he and a friend took a trip with forged travel passes to a border town close to China. They bluffed their way through encounters with border guards, and finally came to a point where the frozen river was narrow enough to run for it. While they made it across, they immediately became the target of a huge manhunt by Chinese and North Korean authorities. Knowing nobody on the Chinese side of the border, having virtually no money, and travelling in the dead of winter, their lives were constantly in peril. Fortunate encounters with sympathetic Chinese helped them get closer to the chance to get to Seoul, but too many times they were seconds and inches away from capture and a return to North Korea, which would have meant certain death.
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Format: Hardcover
Jang Jin-Sung's book, Dear Leader, is one of those books that causes someone like me, who like to read many books at once, to put all other books down to finish it, and at the end, wishing for more. I've read other "escape from oppressive regimes" books that makes me wonder if it is either fiction or overly embelished. This one rings true. There are, of course, many instances where the reader is left wondering if Mr. Jang isn't telling the whole truth; however, if one remembers that the Kim Dynasty in North Korea is one of the most oppressive, if not the most, and that there will inevitably be repercussions to Mr. Jang's book, it is easier to understand that he may have had to either be vague or alter the story to protect others.

Jang's story is remarkable in that his insights come from being part of the elite in a society that is so tightly controlled. His insights into the power dynamics of the Kim Dynasty is invaluable to those of us who are only able to see bits and pieces of this mysterious country often portrayed as epitome of an evil state. Perhaps due to the fact that the author served as one of the eight poet laureates of North Korea under Kim Jong-Il, the writing is better than most escapee stories.

Overall, I would recommend this book to both scholars of North Korea and for anyone who enjoys a good thriller.

Copy provided by NetGalley for an honest review.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a terrifying read. The language is simple and therefore profoundly affecting. Its hard to believe that the author escaped, and especially the way he did. I do believe it, but it's a jawbFor those who have read "1984", this recounting, especially just before his decision to leave, freezes your blood. That he survived his escape is almost like believing in Santa Clause. It's beyond comprehension. But it happened Last

Even more terrifying is the state of control that the "Dear Leader" exercising over his emaciated subjects. Abject poverty is endemic, all in the service of the Dear Leader. The poverty is more brutal than I could have imagined. Why the Americans don't invade this stupid little country is beyond me. I'm unrealistic, I know. But this is a hell hole that begs for liberation. Forget Teheran. Obliterate this hell-hole.

I give this compelling story only 4 stars because I needed the author's post-escape reflections on the society from which he escaped. I needed more vitriol directed at its "leadership". But no, nothing. The author could have given us some suggestions about what we in the West could do to bring down this piddling excuse for a country.
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