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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  7,961 ratings  ·  869 reviews
In this rare insider's view into contemporary North Korea, a high-ranking counterintelligence agent describes his life as a former poet laureate to Kim Jong-il and his breathtaking escape to freedom.

"The General will now enter the room."

Everyone turns to stone. Not moving my head, I direct my eyes to a point halfway up the archway where Kim Jong-il's face will soon appear.
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by 37 Ink
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Becky I dont believe Jang Jin-sung has ever discussed embellishing, which I dont think he did. In fact, he went on to create a newsite for North Korean defe…moreI dont believe Jang Jin-sung has ever discussed embellishing, which I dont think he did. In fact, he went on to create a newsite for North Korean defectors, which celebrates ability to tell news *honestly* rather than having it dictated to them.(less)
德涵 劉 I have a book for 308 pages, and it has about 105000 words. I think this book's word count will be approximately 110000 words.…moreI have a book for 308 pages, and it has about 105000 words. I think this book's word count will be approximately 110000 words.(less)

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Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I like to read speculative fiction – science fiction and fantasy – and this may as well be. The socio-political situation described in North Korea is as alien as something dreamed up by George Orwell or Philip K. Dick.

The author was a state sponsored poet – actually a high-ranking member of the controlling workers party – and got to see behind the wizard’s curtain – realizing finally that all the propaganda about “Dear Leader”, the moniker used for the ruling Kim, was a load of horses***. He dec
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel-natl-hist

This is an amazing book providing very intriguing insights into the life of the most bizarre and secretive regime in the world: North Korea.
This regime, being the only remaining, time-warped expression of a Stalinist state in its purest and most paradoxically form, has always held a great fascination for me. I never visited Real Socialism countries, so I missed the historical boat now that none such states are left - apart from North Korea. I was very attracted to the idea of visiting North Kor
Emmett Hoops
I really wanted to like this book a lot. Anyone who gets out of North Korea is entitled to all the indulgence I can afford. But this one is just too fairy tale-like. Some of Jang's memories are filled with descriptions like, "He looked at me with a smile, and the two of us scampered off like playful children."One too many such descriptions and it all began to sound fake.

One also has to give strong consideration to the author's callousness in not understanding the dangerous predicament those who
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book completely blew my mind. Despite having to struggle with the names and acronyms, I couldn't put it down. This political autobiography of a poet brainwashed to use language only to serve the dictatorship, is way a long way from my usual literary tree - but this demands suspension of disbelief just as any fairy story might do. It opens the closed and cruel institution of dictatorship, leaving the question of whether humanity will ever get past crowd behaviours and primal fears which rend ...more
I had thought that after reading the terrifying, inimitable, and heart-stopping “Nothing to Envy” that there wouldn’t by any shocks for me left in the world of North Korea. I felt that I was prepared mentally, if not emotionally, to read once again about the horrors faced by North Koreans, however, I was completely wrong. Jang was an elite, one who was personally favored by the Kim family, who had access to state secrets (such as North Korea abducting citizens from other countries to indoctrinat ...more
Oct 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane S ☔
Thoughts soon.
Syed Fathi
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bought, favorites, memoir
The next day after I finished reading this book, Kim Jong Nam was assassinated in Malaysia. An event which tally with the account inside the book, on how the worker party purge its own people for their struggle for power.

The book was written very much like a novel. One of my friend drop off halfway reading it, saying that it must not be true. I can't find a proof that the account was fake, so as for me it should be true unless proven otherwise.

Jang story wake something inside me, that is above a
Aug 04, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
Actual rating: 3.5 stars.

I've read several nonfiction books purporting to explain life inside North Korea, but only one other by an actual defector. That book was Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. It was the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, as told to American journalist Blaine Harden, who actually wrote the book. My review of Escape from Camp 14 included these comments:
An interesting but curiously flat and skimpy retelling of a North Korean priso
Kara Babcock
Every so often there’s a topic that catches what I call my “background interest.” These are the topics that I enjoy reading about but don’t obsess over. North Korea is one such topic—I definitely want to keep reading and learning about the country, the regime, the people, but I’m pursuing it gradually. Five years ago I read In Order to Live , Yeonmi Park’s story of escaping North Korea. Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee – A Look Inside North Korea is a good complement. Both memoirs feature the ...more
Antoinette Perez
IF EVERYTHING IN THIS BOOK IS TRUE... that would be awesome. Jang Jin-Sung definitely seems to bring the goods. Since he is revealing insider scoop on that most closed of nations, North Korea, there's very little validation and fact-checking to be done. I've read a few books, both fiction and non-fiction, about North Korea, and this book is different: not only is there perspective from the top of that hierarchy, there's analysis I've never seen before on the shaping of a nation's militaristic id ...more
I've read a lot of books about North Korea and the people who flee the country's oppressive regime and 'Dear Leader' tells a very similar experience once the author has crossed the frozen river. The big difference between this 'I ran away from the Kims' book and most others, is that Jang Jin-Sung had a very privileged insider experience of life close to the ruling family.

Originally a talented musician, he came to the attention of Kim Jung-il through his poetry and at an early age became one of t
I am in awe of this book.

One of Kim Jong-Il's "admitted" officers flees over the Tumen river through China, knowing what nobody outside the country should ever know of. Coming across more than a fair share of obstacles, he manages to escape - many times by pure chance.

Although this book uses a completely different approach to the story of a defector, it tells all the same issues and struggles like most of the other books about North Korean defectors - plus a little bit more.

The author is a poet
Jul 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm divided in how I feel about this book. On the one hand, hearing a perspective from a high ranking insider with several (brief) encounters with Kim Jong Il was very interesting. I wished to hear more about the life of the privileged in the regime, but oh well.

Throughout the book, I did find myself questioning how much was embellished. Maybe embellished isn't the world, but perhaps whitewashed is better. Jang always portrays himself as a morally courageous, but I'm left wondering. It's a memo
Sine Nomine
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Only a few books can make me stay awake for more than 24 hours when I have to wake up early for university the following day, and "Dear Leader" is one of them. I couldn't put it down no matter what, and it even made me cry at five in the morning.
I already had some information about what goes on in North Korea of oppression, but this book gave me a lot of new information that at several times left me with a dropped jaw and anger. Although I am not happy where I live and war or bombings happene
Meonicorn (The Bookish Land)
May 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
what a ride! I need to think about if it's 4 or 4.5 or 5 stars, mark it as 5 stars for now.
highly recommend!
Natalie (CuriousReader)
Reading Dear Leader is akin to reading one of the many famous dystopian novels through the 20th century; your 1984s and Brave New Worlds but of course set in the very real, very present, late 20th and early 21th century. Jang Jin-Sung combines his personal memoir from birth up to the point of becoming a South Korean resident with a critical account of North Korean society and politics on a more general scale. The author of this book worked among some of the highest appointed ‘cadres’ in North Ko ...more
Not a long review...

Story of the actual escape was interesting, though takes up less of the book than I'd expected. Author lived the cadre life in the capital much of his life, so was shocked by the grim, dire circumstances elsewhere upon encountering them. Extensive depiction of the rules for not offending the authorities beyond anything Kafka might've imagined, though somewhat worthwhile for exposing hypocrisy. I found those sections largely tedious.

Recommended with limited enthusiasm.

Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, dystopia
Jang Jin-sung was not just an ordinary poet. He was a court poet to Kim Jong-il, the despotic dictator, euphemistically ‘Dear Leader’, who ruled North Korea until his death in 2011. Jang was a young superstar when at the age of 28 he could so thoroughly impress Kim Jong-il with a poem that he gained the highest personal acknowledgment one could ever dream of in North Korea: he became one of Kim Jong-il's ‘Admitted’. The Admitted were held in such high esteem that even the dreadful Ministry of St ...more
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
First of all: Wow.

This is one of those reads I want to just pepper with adjectives. It was spellbinding. Tragic. Moving. Chilling. Suspenseful. Intense. Lyrical. Inspiring. Heart rending. The writing is as beautiful as the story is compelling.

"Dear Leader" is the seventh book centered around North Korea that I've read in two years. Mostly, I've stuck to defector stories, being endlessly fascinated by how ordinary people live in the DPRK, and how a fortunate minority have managed to escape. The
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first and only defector story I've read so far, so I can't really say it's the best, nor can I critique on anything regarding the legitimacy if it's content, since if anyone would know anything about the regime, it would be Jang and those ruling it.
However, I can say that the reason why I enjoyed the book was not solely because of my interest in the country. While Jang did provide really interesting information as well as understandable explanations, it was the way he intertwined th
Mar 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Freedom is freely given to anyone born in a free land, but others have to risk their lives for it."

North Korea is a country I am very much intrigued with. Another book I've read on North Korea is Escape From Camp 14 in which Shin Donghyuk tells what happens in the labor camps specifically. Dear Leader, in contrast, focuses on North Korea in general: the cultification of the leaders in North Korea, particularly their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, since the author, Jang Jin-sung, lived (and escaped)
George Ward
Sep 13, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, if harrowing, read. Crossing the Tumen not even half the battle, who knew. Siri, remind me to stop taking freedom for granted ✔️
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most compelling nonfiction account I've read. I need time to put together my thoughts. This was intense and so so so so good.

This memoir read like a dystopian thriller. Details that we've all seen in the Handmaid's Tale, the Hunger Games, Brave New World, 1984, the Giver. At times, the stories the author tells prove hard to digest. How can these things happen in the 1990s, the 2000s? These are tragic tales that belong in fiction.

The book is divided into three parts, each as page-tu
Barry Welsh
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Former North Korean poet and propagandist Jang Jin-sung has written “Dear Leader” which appears to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the upper echelons of North Korean society. Whereas the majority of defectors usually detail the awful poverty and starvation that seemingly blight the lives of millions of North Koreans in their memoirs, Jang lived in relative opulence as one of Kim Jong-Il’s “admitted:” an elite group of high level party workers and officials provided with s ...more
Doug Nordman
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm retired from the U.S. Navy's submarine force, so I occasionally get questions about North Korea. Their isolation has led to years of speculation about their government and citizens. It's hard for experts to understand the country's culture and politics, let alone their economy or their military intentions.

"Dear Leader" is written by one of the most informed defectors to leave the country in years. Jang Jin-sung came to the attention of the leadership during college with his poetry and writi
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is a must read for anyone wanting to know the inside story of the dystopian Orwellian nightmare that is North Korea. Written by a former poet-laureate and a member of the Admitted (the elite of the elite who have been allowed in the presence of the Dear Leader for more than 20 mins). It tells the story of Jang Jin-sung and his work with the UDF (an organization that writes propoganda as poetry) under Kim Jong-Il. While, not well-written as more polished novelists might write, it is sta ...more
Jan 23, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
This book was perhaps a slight letdown. It had information about North Korea but probably more than half of the book was dedicated to Jang Jin-Sung and his escape in particular. While it was interesting it was not what I was looking for when I bought this book.

So quite a big part of the roughly 300 pages was not about North Korea. The parts that did were quite interesting, however. Considering the recent confession by Shin Dong-hyuk that he wasn't completely honest about everything in his book
Bahram Zaeri
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beyond the myths and gossips about North Korea, this book gives a much more realistic view about what’s been happening in N.Korea since the foundation of the Kim dynasty. However, it’s more focused on the era of the second leader, Kim Jung-il, titled Dear Leader. The narrator is a North Korean poet (in fact a psychological warfare expertise) working for UFD (United Front Department) which works as the central machine of propaganda for N.K government. Employees of UFD have to produce literary and ...more
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What made this book so interesting was the fact that the author was not a regular citizen who had defected to South Korea, but someone who came from the very core of the North Korean control system - bringing a never before seen perspective and understanding of how the country operates, it's governance and propaganda systems and how they have managed to contain it's people despite the harshest living conditions.

Though Jang Jin-sung is not the first government man to have defected, he is probably
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Jang Jin-sung (Chosŏn'gŭl: 장진성) is the pseudonym of a North Korean poet and government official who defected to South Korea. He had worked as a psychological warfare officer within the United Front Department of the Korean Workers' Party. Jang specifically worked within the United Front Department Section 5 (Literature), Division 19 (Poetry) of Office 101. Office 101 created propaganda intended to ...more

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