Over the past few weeks, reading works have been rather sloppy and I set the goal: reading at least one book per month. When I used to be younger, I’d easily accomplish that goal but now it seems to be a lot more difficult.
I read Dear Leader in Dutch and the book left a huge impression on me, as it gives a look over the high walls of North-Korea, perhaps the most enclosed country in the world.
Jang Jin-sung, a poet close to Kim Chong-il, the leader in that time. As a poet, his job is to fake South Korean poetry to brainwash the population of North Korea and to actually make them believe that the whole world adores the NK system. But bit by bit he sees through the rough philosophy of NK and tells us this about ‘the great leader’, a sentence who stuck in my head from the minute I had read it:
“Startled I realized that the tears I had seen during the encounter were not the tears of a human; they were the tears of someone who was desperate on becoming a human.” – Jang Jin-sung on Kim Chong-il
Lending out South Korean literature is prohibited or actually impossible for non-Party members and there even are strict rules for members. Jang Jin-sung takes a magazine home, which is forbidden. He gives the magazine to a friend, Yongmin, who loses the magazine along with some other prohibited writings of Jang Jin-sung. This is considered a serious crime – all ‘publications’ should pass the Party control before being published or spread – and the two are forced to run off, which is not easy in North Korea, as the citizens are almost controlled by every move they make. They choose to cross the Tumen river, the Northern border, to get to China and via China to South Korea. They astonishingly make it across the river, but the euphoria is soon to be over, as they clash with the fact that the Chinese are often not very welcoming and scared to house a NK refugee, even for a short period of time. The two friends are forced to rely on strangers, who often do not have good intentions. They live on vain hope – almost literally.
This book got me, certainly with huge migrations going on today (think of the Middle East) and also because the reserve of North Korea fascinates me. I cannot believe how a country can hold it’s own people so strict on a leash while those very own people are starving and have hardly any chances in life.
I surely recommend this book to people wanting to know more about life in North Korea and wanting to know what it’s like to leave everything you know for a really long shot chance.