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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-read Transformational Book
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...
Published 7 months ago by Phillip

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
The writing style is a bit odd, but the story is well worth the read.
Published 4 months ago by Kent Buckles


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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-read Transformational Book, May 12, 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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely mesmerising, May 23, 2014
This review is from: Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea (Hardcover)
This book is an absolutely mesmerising account of how a senior propagandist in North Korea fled to China. Reading almost like a thriller, rather than a memoir, Jang Jin-Sung, a talented writer who came to the attention of Dear Leader himself, explains how he felt increasingly compromised working for the regime, until he had to run for his life. The tension just doesn't stop, and interwoven in his personal story is an account of life in North Korea. Some of this we all know - the starvation, systematic abuse and unrelenting propaganda. But there are a lot of surprises - like how much the North Korean leadership hates China.

Even if you have no particular interest in North Korean politics (like me) this book is an outstanding read. It also comes as a startling reminder of the incredible reality that we share a planet with a whole nation of people whose lives are an ongoing torment beyond anything we can imagine.

I'd love to read another book by Jang, about how he found adjusting to life 'on the outside' ...
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but Frustrating, October 8, 2014
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This review is from: Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea (Hardcover)
I am not sure what to make of this book. It reads like an over the top adventure yarn and I have no doubt that escaping North Korea is a harrowing ordeal or that the author experienced something very much like what is described. Nor do I doubt that the author really was a member of Kim Jong-il's inner circle who worked for the UFD as a poet and author. But outside those broad outlines, I am not sure how much of the book to believe.

For starters, Jang Jin-sung is not the author's real name - it is his pen name, as he states toward the end. I understand that this is in part to protect friends and family members who remain back in North Korea who would be subject to terrible reprisals if his real identity were known. But surely the North Koreans must know who he is, after all, how many defecting poet laureates could there be? In fact, he recounts that he is threatened regularly with assassination by the North Koreans, so his family must in fact be very well known to the North Korean security forces. Then there is the curious fact mentioned almost in passing that one of his relatives is the representative to the Middle East for North Korean arms dealing who annually gave a $10 million dollar "gift" to Kim Jong-il and showers his family members back in the North with Mercedes Benz automobiles. Did this strike anyone other than me as bizarre? Finally, there is the statement by the translator regretting that the "whole story with all its details could not be told and that the truth would emerge over time" (I am paraphrasing). So my basic question is: what was omitted, what was made up, and what was really true?

Make no mistake, I understand the author's need for discretion, and I am not being critical. I read this book almost straight through, it was that compelling, especially the details about working for the UFD, life in North Korea, and in particular his meetings with Kim Jung-il. I am rating this four stars and I recommend that anyone with an interest in North Korea give it a look.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary story, an extraordinary history, May 22, 2014
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If you're at all interested in North Korea, totalitarian states, or fascinated by the sheer determination of someone committed to changing his life in otherwise impossible circumstances, you may likely find this to be one of the best books you'll ever read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing story, May 23, 2014
Completely validates "The Orphan master's Son". I would recommend this book to anyone who has any doubts about democracy. Read it. Now. next week is too late.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Jang scoops you up and takes you on his journey to freedom. A most beautifully written book., October 24, 2014
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This was the most beautifully written and moving account I've ever read of an escape from N. Korea. It is an incredible story from a man who enjoyed a life of privilege compared to the privation that the majority of NK is suffering. One can see why Mr. Jang was such a well respected poet laureate (and at such a young age) from his home country. He is an incredible writer. This book moved me to tears so many times. So often, I visualized his pain and despair, his courage, and his indescribabe exhilaration when he finally succeeded in his hard fought quest for freedom.

All Americans should read books about this country because while we complain about our own petty suffering, most of us have really no idea what true human suffering is all about. It's interesting because I was in the midst of a deep depression when I picked up another book (Nothing to Envy by Barbara Denick) about regular North Koreans and that book--plus the subsequent (perhaps 20) others I read, lifted me complete out of my depression.

This is a fascinating read. Most people in his position would have never dreamed of escaping such a privileged existence--if only for the sake of loved ones.

<SPOILER ALERT>

It was only *after* he had given a forbidden book to a trusted friend who had subsequently lost it, did he and his friend realize they had no other solution but to escape. For them to stay would have certainly meant their detention at one of the famous 'gulag' prisons of NK but it would have likely meant the persecution of his loved ones. I believe his primary motive for leaving NK was to spare his family--although I cannot imagine how he must suffer to this day wondering about their health and safety.

The book really does read like a thriller--I couldn't put it down. My tears at the end of this book were for Mr. Jang's final successful escape into the South Korean embassy in Beijing, as well as the tears I shed for his friend who wasn't able to successfully complete the journey with him. My heart broke for his friend, while it rejoiced for Mr. Jang. Never has an account of escape, determination, a will to survive, and gratitude moved me to such an extent. I also can't stop wondering what might have happened to the lovely Cho-rin, who helped him in a way that all of us should help a fellow human being. I admired her so much from Mr. Jang's account of their fateful meeting.

All of us have a duty to stop ignoring the suffering of so many. I want to do more--in what shape or form that comes, I am not yet certain but I believe in fighting for wonderful causes and I can't think of a cause more worthy than helping these oppressed and suffering people.

Mr. Jang, congratulations on your wonderful, well-received book that deserves every accolade it has gotten. Congratulations on the personal happiness you have found with your wife and a new baby. I am so happy you made it to freedom so you could share your incredible, heroic story. Moreover, thank you for spreading the word of the plight of so many North Koreans. We in the west tend to forget how truly lucky we are. I am a better person for having read this book. Amazing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 21st Century Masterpiece, October 5, 2014
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Jennifer "MedWonk" (Alexandria, VA, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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If you are a fiction-only reader, I assure you that, even though Dear Leader is a true story, it is indistinguishable from a great novel. The story has the pacing and revelations of The De Vinci Code. It depicts two dystopian societies that are, dare I say, more intriguing than those in 1984 and Brave New World. As with the Hunger Games or Divergent, you will quickly find yourself emotionally invested in Jang’s fate and that of his friends. This is the best narrative I have read in years, and the fact that it is a memoir makes it all the more heart-wrenching and profound.

Jang allows readers to live in his head and see through his eyes in a way few memoir writers do. For example, Twelve Years a Slave, Man's Search for Meaning, Angela’s Ashes, and The Diary of Ann Frank are indisputably great and intimate memoirs, but they do not involve an awakening that one's dearly held articles of faith---beliefs around which everyone one knows has been required to organize their lives-- are an elaborate deception. Another unique difference is that Jang makes a decision to pursue truth despite the risk to himself and those he loves. Under North Korean law, it is a capital offense to seek information about the outside world. After the offender is executed, his family and closest friends are imprisoned indefinitely unless they prove they had no knowledge of the crime. Lastly, Jang has the soul of a poet and understands the value of words. Even though this book was written in Korean, Jang writes beautifully and chooses his words thoughtfully. His memoir is not merely a call to action or a tribute to the innate curiosity and courage at the core of all people. Jang writes with his reader in mind, and he wants to give a small gift to each reader who joins him on his journey.

Having read Dear Leader three times in six weeks, I now feel fascinated by Asian culture and guilty that I have misunderstood one third of the world's people for my entire life. Jang Jin-sung is responsible for my awakening. To help correct my deficiency, I am listening to Great Courses lectures on The Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition and on The Foundations of Eastern Civilization. I hope other readers will be similarly inspired to explore East Asian culture.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing must read, May 14, 2014
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Very well written "thriller", with great details of the "leadership" of North Korea. The title of the book is correct. Must read for those who are interested in North Korea.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a must read., October 1, 2014
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Just amazing. I served as a young infantry lieutenant on the Korean DMZ in the mid 80s. I thought I had an understanding of the tyrants ruling the north. I didn't understand anything. It was and is so much worse than anyone can comprehend. The nightmare the masses must endure trying to survive in N. Korea is horrific. The ruling Kim dynasty is in many ways more evil than Stalin or Hitler. They have no aspirations for their country or people. They could not care less how many millions of their countrymen starve to death, as long as the ruling elite stay in power. This book describes in detail the many techniques the Kims use to keep their people isolated from the rest of the world, keep their people subservient, and maintain power. One can assume similar methods are used by other totalitarian regimes like those in Cuba, Iran, Syria, China, and maybe Russia. This is a great book. Some chapters during Mr Jang's month long escape through China get a little slow, but push through it. He mixes some of the best stories and lessons of N. Korea in with the experience of his escape. It's truly fascinating. This book will make you smarter, understand how those on the other side of democracy operate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An innervating read full of humanity, elucidated politics, and mellifluous prose, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea (Hardcover)
There are a few books available about North Korea, but this book, by far, is the most informed. Jang Jin-Sung tells yet another touching and humane story about escaping from North Korea and the sacrifice that this act entails. Additionally, the book offers a detailed look at the hierarchy and governmental infrastructure of the DPRK. Jang was a highly-ranked person in North Korea. He was a propaganda poet who had close connections to major players in the DPRK scene. The book is written very beautifully, the story of humanity is inspiring and tear-inducing, and the detailed information about North Korea is invaluable.

If you want to be educated on North Korea, this book is a sine qua non.
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Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea
Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea by Jin-sung Jang (Hardcover - May 13, 2014)
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