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Defector-turned novelist reveals truths about N. Korea

Posted August. 17, 2013 03:42,   


“As a matter of fact, people like me did not flee from North Korea because we were hungry. I thought I would have something to say if I did at least one thing for the Korean nation. I thought that telling the truth about North Korea is a shortcut to preparing for reunification.”

Jang Hae-seong, 67, a North Korean defector, has been extremely busy lately. He told the Dong-A Ilbo on Friday that he had become even busier since his novel “Duman River” was published in June. “I don’t think I had a busier time than now since I came to Southy Korea in 1996,” he said. Appearing on TV programs once every two days on average, Jang has been telling inside stories of North Korea’s power elite that he saw as a former body guard for former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, as a student at Kim Il Sung University and as a reporter of the North’s state-run Korean Central Television.

The Dong-A Ilbo asked him why he is so enthusiastic about letting South Koreans know about the North, even though he is getting older and economically stable to run a Korean food restaurant in central Seoul.

“When I talk with South Korean leftists, I often see them talking about a North Korea in their fantasy, rather than in reality,” he said. “A typical example is the idea that North Korea is an equal society that Karl Marx aimed at. When I told them that it was not true, they asked me if I was told to say so by the National Intelligence Service (the South Korean spy agency). It was frustrating.”

It was the sense of frustration that prompted him to write the book. He said that those who follow North Korea should know about it before following it. That is why, in his novel, he vividly described the process in which Kim Il Sung purged military generals who helped him during the Korean War, established a hereditary power succession system and implemented politics of fear by using public security stations and jails. He also provided a detailed description of the hardship suffered by a father who was taken to a jail for criticizing the North Korean system and by his two daughters while trying to defect to the South. The novel reflects the author’s actual experiences, in which he had to escape the North after being labeled as a “reactionary” for telling the truth that Kim Jong Il was born in the Soviet Union, not on Mount Baekdu, as Pyongyang propagandized.

Commenting on the recent situation between the two Koreas, Jang said, “Despite a series of positive news, the North Korea will drag down the South’s if need be. (Seoul) should not make a hasty conclusion about Pyongyang’s behavior.”