Attempting to understand North Korea for many in the west has been compared to trying to see clearly through frosted glass. The Hermit Kingdom has cracked open slightly in recent years, allowing some visitors the chance to glimpse at a culture made mysterious and hidden, on purpose, by the Kim dynasty.
Celebrity ghostwriter Michael Malice went to Pyongyang in 2012 and collected English language North Korean propaganda books from which he has been able to write a humorous yet chilling book titled Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il. Using the first person to write the book in Kim Jong Il’s own words, Malice brings us a clearer view of the very serious methods behind the madness in this conversation with VOA’s Jim Stevenson.
So much of our reporting and understanding of North Korea is from a western context. Most of these philosophies are completely foreign in every sense to the American mindset and the western mindset at large. So it makes it very, very hard for the typical person to have any idea of what is going on over there other than the fact that it looks very weird to our senses.
STEVENSON: This must have been a lot of fun for you to write and discuss as you were putting it together.
MALICE: Oh, it was not fun in the slightest. The backstory to creating this book was nightmarish. I went to Pyongyang, got armfuls of the propaganda. I slogged through all of these communist texts. They are so tedious and mind numbing, it is almost impossible to describe, and repetitive of course. So I had to read through these books to get a view of how North Koreans see themselves, how Kim Jong Il is presented there, and to adapt it in a palatable way in the first person perspective. If you feel that it seems fun, then I have done my job because it certainly wasn’t.
STEVENSON: We have heard so many stories of people visiting Pyongyang and being told Kim Jong Il discovered this, and created that.
MALICE: Some of those are actually true. For example, there is a very famous story that people in the west make fun of that says Kim Jong Il invented the hamburger. What the actual claim was is that Kim Jong Il introduced the hamburger to North Korea. In fact, when you are an absolute dictator, anything that happens in the country is only going to be by virtue of your privilege, so it is a fact that he introduced the hamburger in North Korea. Anything that happens in North Korea is a function of his giving the green light to it.
STEVENSON: I was reading the back cover and one of the bullet points was how he can shrink time, what is that about?
MALICE: Oh, this is my favorite story because in the literature they claim that Kim Jong Il can shrink time. It is absolutely true that he can shrink time and this is what they mean by it. He is at a conference and he is listening to the speaker and filling out some forms. People are interrupting him to ask for his opinion on things. At one point the speaker stops and Kim Jong Il says, “What are you stopping [for]?” The speaker says, “Well, you are doing these other things.” Kim Jong Il says, “I can do all these things at once. I can shrink time.” And everyone is shocked. When I told this story to my friend, she goes, “Does he mean multitasking?” Yes, that is exactly what he means. Apparently Kim Jong Il is the only person in North Korea who is capable of doing more than one thing at once.
… At the beginning you are laughing at him, at his ridiculousness. And the later it gets once you are on the hook, you realize this isn’t funny at all when you have someone boasting in the same tone about his great math skills and later boasting about public executions and concentration camps. You realize this is happening right now. We laugh at their antics. But part of these antics are the worst human rights abuses for the last hundred years.