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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and completely gripping
Having heard Jang Jin Sung speak at Kings Place recently, I was interested to read his account of his escape from his homeland, N Korea. My only regret was not reading this account of his escape before seeing him. Although distinguishing between Korean names was hard for my Anglo ears the insight into this terrifying world was a remarkable and although we have our...
Published 6 months ago by stop the war

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The cult of Kim: 'dictatorship of the mind'.
Jang Jin-sung is from a middle class background. He studies music at university but also shines at poetry. When one of his poems comes to the attention of Kim Jong-il, he is invited to join the privileged inner ranks of cadres as a propagandist.

Though travel is severely restricted in North Korea, Jang Jin-sung is granted permission to visit his home town. To...
Published 6 months ago by Sue Kichenside


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and completely gripping, 14 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Dear Leader: North Korea's senior propagandist exposes shocking truths behind the regime (Kindle Edition)
Having heard Jang Jin Sung speak at Kings Place recently, I was interested to read his account of his escape from his homeland, N Korea. My only regret was not reading this account of his escape before seeing him. Although distinguishing between Korean names was hard for my Anglo ears the insight into this terrifying world was a remarkable and although we have our difficulties here in the UK it made me feel very lucky to live in a democracy where we can take our freedom so much for granted.
I thoroughly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insight into North Korea, 29 July 2014
By 
Amanda Jenkinson "MandyJ" (Cheltenham) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Jang Jin-sung was a member of North Korea’s élite. He was a court poet to the ruling Kim family and a propagandist working in a secret government department that waged psychological warfare on South Korea, trying to convince that country that all is well in the North. He even met Kim Jong Il himself on becoming one of the “Admitted” when still only in his 20s. Privileges undreamt of by most of the population of North Korea were his for the taking. But it all came to an end when he lent a forbidden book to a friend and it was left on a train. Soon traced back to Jang, he and the friend had no option but to flee their country.
Much of the book is taken up with the account of their life on the run until Jang makes it to relative safety in South Korea, but much of the real interest of the book is the account of life in North Korea, and I occasionally found myself bored with the trials and tribulations of his escape, all of which felt somewhat familiar from other escape narratives. But the descriptions of the life of a privileged member of society, the kind of work he was engaged on and passages when he explains the historical and political background I very much enjoyed. I wish more of the book had been about his life before he had to flee.
In spite of my personal reservations, this is an important and extremely interesting account of North Korea and will be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about that benighted country. Jung is now working as a poet in the UK, and it may well be that he has more insights to give us. I hope so.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, 9 Aug 2014
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I've read a lot of similar eyewitness books on North Korea, but this is by far the most shocking and sensational for the level of access the author clearly had to the regime's most guarded secrets, as well as his growing disillusionment and fall from favour, and the details of his escape. The writing style is beautifully poetic and engaging, as he tells his own story of escape interspersed with shocking memories from the rest of his life in the North. His accounts are vivid and heartbreaking, and had me close to tears several times, and he tells his story with a level of detail shorter books cannot.

The book was exactly what I was looking for - It is perfectly accessible to those new to reading about life in North Korea, but full of accounts that will still come as a shock to even the most seasoned reader of similar material. I cannot recommend this book enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making a run for it, 4 Oct 2014
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Plenty of books have been written about people who fled North Korea. Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy and Kang Chol-Hwan's Aquariums of Pyongyang may well be the more well-known among those, but there are a host of other books on the subject. Virtually everyone who made a run for it has a story to tell.

So does Jang Jin-Sung. What distinguishes the author from most of the others is that he had it all made. He wrote the correct poems which allowed him to rise through the ranks and become part of the inner circle. If he hadn't screwed up, i.e., lending a book, which he wasn't supposed to, to someone, who wasn't supposed to have it, and if that someone hadn't lost it, which he wasn't supposed to do, the author could have lived out his days in comfort, or at least as long as Kim Jong-Il was in charge. It was not to be, so the author and his good friend made a run for it.

The interesting part of the book I thought was the adventures (if that is the right word) the two experienced in China. That would be all of Part two and most of Part three. What I found odd is that the actual `how I finally made it to South Korea' constitutes a very small part of Part three and it is also a very undetailed account of how it was done. Included in the latter two parts are also a number of anecdotes on Kim Jong-Il's policies. If you have watched North Korea closely some of these should not be entirely unfamiliar to you. But that as it may be, these chapters are gruesome reading.

What made me smile is the author's description of meeting the dear leader. All dictators have their antics, I suppose. What I liked about the book is that the author doesn't spend any time philosophy-ing about unification, however, he does make some observations in his afterword which are well worth taking note of.

Make sure you don't miss this book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A transformative read that should change the global dialogue on North Korea, 13 May 2014
This book is the sort that can save lives – hopefully even 25 million of them. It is the most absorbing read that this reader has had in many years. Why is it better than the many noteworthy books on North Korea that have been published before? Because it was written by a high level insider - one of the country’s chief propagandists - who also happens to be an articulate and sensitive writer, with a vastly different perspective from that of a Westerner or a "common" (if there can be such a characterization) North Korean escapee.

It's not just a searing indictment of the Kim dynasty or a political dissertation that details the organization and functioning of a Stalinist dictatorship. It's not just an intimate account of unimaginable human suffering that has been inflicted on a nation’s population over the past few decades by an evil regime. It's not just a thrill-a-minute international espionage story that follows two high-value defectors as they flee, starving and penniless, across the winter landscape of Korea and Northern China, hunted by security forces from both countries. In fact, it is all of these story lines, plus more. The range of its setting stretches from privilege to privation. It is a depiction of a place that seems surreal and hallucinogenic, though it is only too real. It is a story of a man’s awakening from a blinkered life to a wide world beyond his imagining – both its horrors and beauty. It is about his coming to terms with terrible truths and the equally terrible lies that he had helped to perpetrate. It is a buddy story about two young men on the run who share every human emotion possible – from valor to shame to frailty to brotherly love. And perhaps most importantly, it is an epic poem, written by a talented story teller. As such, the book touches the reader in ways that no other account of North Korea has done before. By interweaving original poetry and lyrical descriptions of artistic expression into a John le Carre thriller, there is something for everyone. It runs both wide and deep. As such, it has the potential to reach an audience that is broader than any book on the subject. One can only hope that it does, and that by burrowing deeply into millions of readers, it changes the perspective and energy of the global dialogue on North Korea.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A rare look inside North Korea..., 7 Sep 2014
By 
Thomas Duff "Duffbert" (Portland, OR United States) - See all my reviews
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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.

What makes this stand out for me is the ability of Jang Jin-sung to explore his observations and emotions. His skill as a writer puts him in a different category of refugee who seeks escape from life in North Korea. His experience in working within the North Korean government at a high level also adds a level of insight that's rare given the secrecy of that country.

Dear Leader is well worth reading on a number of levels, and will help you to understand why there is such a cult of worship for the Kim family leadership.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing book, 22 Jun 2014
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This book gives so much!
- Good insight into how North Korea is controlled and the terrible suffering that the people of this country have to endure
- Incredible true story of the writer's previous lift in North Korea and his struggles during his escape
- Some Information about comtemporary North Korea

Great as an informative book, which can show the terrible realities of ruthless regimes and human suffering but also written beautifully, it's a factual book but has the qualities of an enthralling novel, which you simply cannot put down. A powerful book that helps the reader connect with the writer and indeed in a sense seems to make the reader connect with every North Korean. You can tell that it's written by a master of words....a poet.

All I can say is God Bless you Jang Jin-Sung, thank you for going through what you did and being brave enough to write about it as you do, you are making a difference and I am glad you have brought your story to me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An astonishing tale of state oppression, 16 Jun 2014
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A bit dry at times nevertheless this tale of life in North Korea is Big Brother in real life, almost impossible to believe in its inhumanity - and yet the author does well to explain how a whole country responds to the overwhelming power of the Kim family.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!, 19 Jun 2014
By 
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a rare find - one of those books you just can't bear to put down, and which is over all too soon. An excellent adventure story, describing the author's perilous escape from North Korea, which keeps you on the edge of your seat right to the very end of the book. If you like films such as 'the Great Escape', you'll love this. And how astonishing to imagine these events happening in 2004!

But this is so much more. The author is a gifted artist, something of a child prodigy as a musician and as a poet, and it shows. This book is extremely well crafted though out and is beautifully written. No doubt there is some slight embellishment in the name of poetic licence, but this is fully justified in the name of getting the deeper truths out to the widest possible audience. In the meantime I shall seek out his poetry, if I can find it in English.

The message buried within the story is of profound significance. It reveals crucial details about the working of the regime and should be read by all politicians and diplomats involved in any way. And for those of us living in privileged circumstances, it reminds us to cherish and work to preserve our freedoms.

Finally, the story is deeply moving - I was close to tears by the end.

I give it the highest possible recommendation.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The cult of Kim: 'dictatorship of the mind'., 13 Jun 2014
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Jang Jin-sung is from a middle class background. He studies music at university but also shines at poetry. When one of his poems comes to the attention of Kim Jong-il, he is invited to join the privileged inner ranks of cadres as a propagandist.

Though travel is severely restricted in North Korea, Jang Jin-sung is granted permission to visit his home town. To his horror, he finds that the people there are now living in the most abject poverty and the scales fall from his eyes. Returning to Pyongyang, he makes a careless mistake which comes to the attention of the authorities. This hastens his decision to flee to freedom.

On the run with a friend, Young-min, the pair cross to China where they have to endure hunger and bitter cold. They need a helping hand to reach South Korea but anyone could give them away. Who can they trust?

Considering that Jang Jin-sung is a poet, this is not a particularly well-written account. This could be the fault of the translation or perhaps the author's stilted style is ingrained from the formal nature of his poetry. Nevertheless, this is a compelling story. The regime's appalling acts of cruelty are hard to stomach and it's difficult to understand how such despotism survives in the 21st century.
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