Skip to main content

Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 7 page 25


Jang Jin-sung felt survivor guilt, but at the same time he became more resolved to reach South Korea to begin waging what he calls his “war against despotism.” He wangled bus fare to Beijing off a Korean restaurant owner in Shenyang. After that, at the end of 35 days on the run, Jang’s transfer to the South Korean side was managed in simple fashion: he phones a South Korean newspaper tip-off line and offers them a scoop on his story. (Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of that sooner?) The paper hooks Jang up with South Korean operatives who smuggle him into the South Korean embassy in Beijing in what turns out to be the only part of Dear Leader that features any spycraft.

Jang concludes his tale with a cheerleader chant: “Long live freedom. Long live freedom. Long live freedom.”

Currently, Jang is founder and editor-in-chief of New Focus International, an exile newsmag focusing on North Korean politics. He says he is on North Korea’s hit list and needs police protection. He is married to a South Korean and they have a kid (Jang’s contribution to reunification, he remarks). Jang resuscitated his inner poet by publishing I Sell My Daughter for 100 Won, a collection of his previously secret verse. The title poem was based on an incident he’d witnessed in a poor district of Pyongyang where a desperate, emaciated woman sold her seven-year old daughter in the market place. A hundred won is a small amount. In South Korea the poem was adapted for TV, song and stage, almost the whole propaga-tainment spectrum.

There is an important missing piece in Dear Leader. Jang Jin-sung does not tell us whether his mom and dad and siblings left behind in the North were persecuted for his defection. Working in intelligence, he should have been able to glean some news on this matter.

Jang says that, for the sake of other defectors who might follow him, there are many things he can’t explain in this book. So if you're the kind of reader who likes to get the whole picture — sorry, top secret!