Author: Anna Fifield
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Summary: This was fascinating, as both a biography and as a history of North Korea.
I was thinking of picking up some fiction (88 Names) that includes Kim Jong Un as a character and realized I might enjoy it more if I knew something about him first. Fortunately, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction recommended this biography highly enough that I remembered her review from last year. The author of this unusual biography had access to a wide variety of sources, which she uses to give both a personal look at Kim Jong Un and some insight into the history of North Korea.
This book definitely lived up to Rennie’s recommendation! I was concerned it would focus exclusively on Kim, which felt a bit like the true crime books that only focus on a serial killer. Fortunately, the author also describes his repressive regime. This includes details of daily life in North Korea, such as the always-on state radio required to be played in every house. She also describes the extreme punishment of political dissidents without trial, which can include death or exile to concentration camps. This almost felt like a micro-history to me, using Kim Jong Un’s personal life as a lens to look at the larger story of North Korean history, and I enjoyed that broader picture.
The details of Kim’s life were also fascinating. The author cites sources surprisingly close to Kim. As a result, she was able to share enough anecdotes that I felt like I got an insider look at Kim’s personality, childhood, and motivations. The only thing that kept this from being a five star read for me is that it didn’t have a strong, narrative drive. The book unfolds largely sequentially, but I think even this author lacks the sources necessary to give a detailed story of Kim’s life. Instead, this a collection of facts, brought to life with a sprinkling of the few anecdotes available.