The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


Death of a North Korean Salesman

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Kim Jong-il has four kids. That’s because the middle two, daughter Kim Sul-song and son Kim Jong-chul, toil away quietly within party ranks, leaving disenfranchised oldest son Kim Jong-nam and ridiculously young successor in waiting Kim Jong-un to divide up the public media speculation and bickering. The latest broadside comes via the Friday January 28th publication in the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun of a recent interview given by Jong-nam.

The prominence of the two bookend sons renders the goings on at the dynastic tip of North Korea a little like the melodrama of Arthur Miller‘s Pulitzer Prize winning play Death of a Salesman. Think of Kim Jong-il as Willy Loman, having just returned from a business trip to China empty handed. Though he came away with some concessions, he did not secure the big prize in Beijing.

Recasting the Dear Leader as Willy Lo-man(Copyright Carlos Manns)

That leaves pops to obsess about eclipsing his more successful neighbor (Charley-South Korea) and drift back and forth between post-stroke flashback dream and reality, while his two sons (Biff/Jong-nam; Happy/Jong-un) debate the legacy of their dad and share their own, respective aspirations. There’s also, just like in the play, a mistress, Kim Ok.

The value of perceiving what’s going on in North Korea right now as an Off-Off-Off Broadway version of Death of a Salesman is that it contextualizes this kooky family in the proper stage light. Behind the specter of nuclear weapons is really nothing more than a wonky pre-ordained father-son drama, with the successive elements of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un spanning the same era as the successive anglo Salesman anchors of Arthur Kennedy, George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, Brian Dennehy and, this fall, Philip Seymour Hoffman.


Filed under: Commentary, Kim Jong-il

2 Responses

  1. Frank Kim says:

    Interesting. How does it end?

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