In 1997, North Korean foreign worker Lim Il defected to South Korea from the relatively easier vantage point of Kuwait, where he had been sent to drum up some Juche foreign currency as part of the country’s trade mission. Since that time, the now-42-year-old has written several books about his experiences in the south and former daily life in Pyongyang.
Il‘s new, fourth chronicle takes a bit of a different tack than his previous three, inserting Kim Jong-il into the proceedings, front and center. Surprisingly, there’s not much English language media coverage of this Peninsula author, whose books are notable for their often lighthearted tone. But in an interview done a few years ago in connection with his third book, Seoul, Way Beyond Pyongyang, Il (pictured) explained that much of the fun for him comes from the little things:
“I’ve noticed most office workers in Seoul wear business suits and neckties. Pyongyang citizens wear suits only three or four times a year on special occasions, such as national holidays or events featuring North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Usually, they wear casual clothing, like jackets…”
“In my third book, I wrote that Pyongyang smacks of a quiet science lab, while Seoul is more like a venue for hilarious gag shows. In Pyongyang, it’s hard to express one’s individuality or originality. People are supposed to live in the strict, monotonous framework set by the Party or the government, so it’s difficult to develop one’s own image. In contrast, diversity is guaranteed in Seoul. Here, people voice their own opinions and create different styles and trends. The two cities are diametrically different.”
None of Il‘s books appear to be available in translated, English language form. Given the focus of his fourth, it would seem like a perfect opportunity for some enterprising publisher to finally catch up western audiences to the playful defector’s point of view. This guy has evidently come a long way from his days with the Ministry of Public Security and the Committee for Foreign Economic Relations.
[Photo courtesy: KBS World Radio]