Read with: iBooks for iPad
Genre: Historical Fiction
Date of Publication: May 29, 2015
Started On: September 10, 2016
Finished On: September 12, 2016
Kimjonglia is a story that should interest anyone that has an avid curiosity when it comes to the ultra secretive regime that is North Korea. When one considers the recent events of volatility involving its current leader and the current US President, the North Korean leadership now into its third generation since the reign of the Dear Leader, its history is of vital importance if one is to understand where the regime and its ideology stems from. I believe that Kimjonglia offers vital insight into the regime’s very fragile beginnings which was orchestrated in a very large and significant way by both China and Soviet Union at the time. Stalin’s notoriety as a despotic leader and his regime’s dark influence is seen in the mechanisms that were used by the North Korean regime in the early years to subjugate the masses, which saw entire families “disloyal” to the regime sent to gulags, killed, or worse. Stories of the abject horror that the residents of these gulags are subjected to emerge and trickle down from prisoners who risk their lives to escape. But this is not what Kimjonglia is about.
Kimjonglia, according to the author of the book, is a flower that is named after Kim Jong. Story begins when Peter Chang, whose heroic role in defeating the Japanese forces in China is entrusted with protection of Kim Jong-Suk, wife of Kim Song-ju, the man who was being groomed to become the leader of North Korea. Kim Song-ju’s description in the book needs no further explanation which I will quote here.
“Kim Song-ju was born in 1912, the oldest of three brothers. His father was a Presbyterian minister, kicked out of the church for stealing funds. Even though Kim never fought in a guerrilla war, many stories about him circulate on the Korean Peninsula. No one really knows how these stories came to light, but there is strong evidence that Soviet leaders, desperately looking for a Korean ally, might have been behind the tales. In reality, Kim Song is an insecure man who loves to spend his time with loose women rather than with men of respect and honor. He loves to tell family stories to impress people, and often misrepresents his real family background. Many people in Korea, China, and the Soviet Union believe that he is a God-loving Christian man, but in point of fact Kim Song is an atheist who believes in aliens. He loves astrology and often makes absurd claims, such as seeing aliens and meeting them in his home. He believes firmly that he was born an exceptional man who is destined to rule the world. The Soviet Union and China know about his weaknesses but support him because he is the most gullible Korean public figure available. Both countries believe that Kim Song-ju will be easily controlled, and they use his incapacities to their advantage. An unspoken war is in progress between the two countries to get full control of Kim Song-ju, and unfortunately, from the Chinese point of view, our position is weakening and deteriorating. Kim Song is getting closer to the Kremlin and has even adopted his new name, Kim ll-Sung. We don’t know why the Soviet Union convinced him to change his name, but we think it was to hide his military records. Lately we have confirmed that he has become a big consumer of vodka and drinks heavily in the evenings. Our source also tells us that alcohol consumption is having a terrible effect on his health, and some Soviet doctors are trying to stop him from drinking too much. He also suffers from numerous sexual diseases. While the Soviets were busy throwing beautiful women at him, we arranged for him to marry one of our finest agents.”
Though born as a Korean, Kim Jong-Suk had been brought up loyal to China and the Communist Party of China (CPC). In the end, afraid that the Soviet’s influence on Kim Song-ju was growing too rapidly, China had been “forced” to convince Kim Song-ju to take Kim Jong-Suk as his wife. However, Kim Song-ju had proven to be far difficult and unpredictable a man to control as CPC had initially thought. Which is how Peter is sent as a live in household staff at Kim Song-ju’s residence.
At first, I did not believe that I would be as fascinated with the story as I was in the end. I didn’t expect myself to be thoroughly captivated by the tale that unfolded, but the story is told in such a way that the elite founding members of the dictatorial and autocratic regime that is North Korea appears in a more human light. I wouldn’t use the word humane on a leader who laid down the foundations of depraved cruelty for his people, but nevertheless he is discussed in a light that sheds insight into the man he became later on. A man who is as much flesh and blood as you and me. A man driven by his baser desires of drinking and need for women that he could never get enough of, and the wife that he kept at home, who turned to another man for comfort which brings forth with it scandalous secrets of the kind that could shake the very foundations of the regime itself.
Kimjonglia also shows the Chinese and Russian machinations that went on behind Kim Song-ju’s back. The Chinese and Russians trying to outdo each other in the influence both wielded on Kim. How the Chinese planted spies loyal to the CPC within Kim’s inner circles, and how the Russians cultivated enough personal information on the offspring of Kim that could have literally broken him into pieces. The hostility that North Korean regime shows towards the US, Japan and the South Korea is a dynamic that interests foreign policy enthusiasts. So does its close ties with Russia and China which has continued up till today.
Kimjonglia is passed off as written by one of the earliest Generals of Kim’s army, one of Chinese origin, who worked as a spy for the Russians, but eventually found himself in cahoots with the Chinese in order to protect their assets on the Pyongyang ground. Utter barbaric cruelty of the Kim Jong even as a child is displayed in the book, one that barely hints at the savagery he would later wield over his people once he took over from his father.
Tales of love, lust, betrayal, and treachery lines the lives of the family, and makes for a fascinating read that remains highly plausible once you do more reading on the characters that appear in the book as it unfolds. What happened to Kim’s first wife, mother of Kim Jong and her lover and father of her two kids remains a mystery, conveniently explained by the North Korean regime as having being killed in child birth. Because of the secrecy that shrouds the members of a regime that has become increasingly paranoid over time, what you read and garner between the lines is just as captivating. I just wish that there was more of it!
Final Verdict: Focusing on the personal lives & ties that bind, Kimjonglia tells a tale that is irresistible to anyone interested in the North Korean regime.
“Do you know Kim ll-Sung?”
Peter thought momentarily. “The Korean?”
Hands clasped behind his back, Shao nodded gravely, his jaws tense.
“I’ve heard about him, but never met him in person.”
“How about Kim Jong Suk?”
“Yes, I know her,” Peter said.
“How do you know her?”
“I’ve seen her at the headquarters once or twice.” Several Koreans had fought the Japanese alongside the Chinese. “She is his wife, right?”
“True. You know more than I thought.”
“I’m not a fool. Who doesn’t know the Korean? People say he is full of shit and a coward. How can a man like him become important?”
“Don’t pay attention to gossips. Nobody is perfect,” Shao waved his finger. “Our job is to do what’s good for China. And he is good enough.”
“What if he is bad for his own people?”
“We can’t carry the burden of others. Our concern is only for the CPC.”
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