A nonfiction pick for BotW this week – but the story it tells is so incredible that it reminds me of an essay I wrote at university about the statement “Literature has to be plausible, history only has to be true”. And whilst I don’t remember what I wrote in the essay (although I do remember it got a first after much panicking and a session with my tutor where I learnt the “Ron” method of essay writing), this book really does prove that the truth can be stranger than fiction.
So Paul Fischer’s A Kim Jong-il Production tells the story of the kidnapping of South Korea’s biggest female movie star and her ex-husband, the country’s most famous director/producer who were snatched by North Korea as part of a plan to overhaul the county’s film industry. But as well as the story of the kidnapping, it’s also a bit of a potted history of the two countries, the ties that bind them, that separate then and a truly mind-blowing insight into the workings (or otherwise) of the world’s most secretive state.
Now I work in news and I’m a history graduate (albeit one who did mainly European history, and avoided anything before 1066) and I like to think that I’m fairly well up on world events and current affairs, but my mind was honestly boggled by the goings on in this book – not just the stuff from the country ruled by the crazy dictator and his family, but also by the intermittent chaos and military rule going on in South Korea. I can (just) remember the Seoul Olympic Games, and it seemed incredible to me that just a few years before the country’s president was assassinated – and tanks were on the street.
If I have a criticism of book, it’s that it sometimes seemed to be taking a long time to get to the actual kidnapping, but given my (as I now know) woeful understanding of the wider picture and the situation leading up to the main event (so to speak) I can let Paul Fischer off the hook. I feel like I learned a lot over the course of the book as well as being thoroughly engrossed in the story.
The Boy practically snatched this out of my hand as I fished it so that he could read it and he’s already two thirds of the way through. I guess if you already know a lot about the history of the two Koreas, this might be repeating some old ground, but if you’re anything like me, I think you’ll find it fascinating, bonkers and just a little bit scary – and very glad you weren’t born in North Korea.