North Korea is fanatically hermitical, and the ruling Dynasty seems extremely guarded about their true past. Yet a dedicated and skilled reporter can learn much. Bradley K. Martin is just such a reporter, having spent 25 years on the Asian beat and visiting North Korea several times. Oddly, he was just invited back even after the first edition of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty (St. Martin’s Press, New York 2nd edition 2006) hit the shelves.
Perhaps the North Koreans have learned to ignore irony. Martin is looking behind the veils of North Korea and the Kim family and reporting exactly what he sees, and such candor is not loved by most totalitarians, but he does not denounce and he reports what he was told with a straight face (and a gentle ironic wit). He has wrought a superb exploration of North Korea and its idiosyncratic leaders. The book is timely, because one gets the sense that the Kim Jung Il family will not rule eternally, and North Korea is creaking at its overstressed seams.