Excerpt from A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Kim Jong-Il Production

The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

by Paul Fischer

A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer X
A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 368 pages
    Nov 2015, 368 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

August 1982

The last thing Shin Sang-Ok remembered was sitting in his cell, unable to feel his own heartbeat, too weak to move or stand. He had been held in a North Korean detention center for almost two years, crammed inside a solitary cell barely big enough to lie down in, with one tiny slit of a window high up on the wall and thick steel bars across it. Bugs teemed through cracks in the floor. Except for a thirty-minute lunch break, a ten-minute supper, and a thirty-minute "sunning" period in the prison yard, he was required to sit in the exact same position all day, head bowed and motionless, absolutely stock-still, or suffer even greater punishment.

He had been on a hunger strike for five days when he lost consciousness. Now, awakening in a prison infirmary, he struggled to breathe. The August air was hot and thick with humidity. A blinding headache blurred his thoughts. His mouth felt dry and metallic, and his stomach was seized with cramps. The simplest movement hurt.

"This guy is probably going to make it," a voice said. "He just moved his toes."

Shin blinked his eyes open. An investigator was standing by his bed, a high-ranking military officer at his side. A prison guard stood attentively behind them. The two men talked among themselves in agitated tones, never addressing Shin directly. After a short while, all three men left.

It was then that Shin became aware of another prisoner in the room. The convict pulled a chair up by Shin's bed and brought him a tray of food. Shin knew him. He was a trusty, an inmate given charge of basic tasks around the prison— sweeping, mopping, serving food, and delivering messages— in exchange for more freedom and time out of his cell. Often a trusty was also a snitch; it was the way he had obtained his position and the way he kept it.

"Eat," the trusty said.

Shin looked at the tray: rice soup, a bowl of stew, and an egg. By prison standards the food was luxurious. Shin turned it down anyway. When the trusty spooned some soup out of the bowl and tried to feed him, Shin pinched his mouth shut tight. "Take it," the trusty insisted. "It will do you good. You need to eat." The man persisted, and eventually Shin gave in. At first, the thought of food made him feel sick, but one taste and his hunger rushed back. He quickly devoured most of the meal but, in gratitude, left some of it for the trusty.

"What happened?" Shin asked.

"You missed roll call yesterday," the trusty said. "I went to check on you and found you unconscious on the floor. You should have seen their faces. They were so scared they'd let you die. They sent for the doctor and he checked your pulse and had you taken here. They'll be relieved to know you will live."

The trusty eyed him carefully. "Now I really know you're an important person. No one cares here if a prisoner dies. I went on hunger strike once. They told me that a man dies in ten days from hunger, a woman fifteen. It didn't take me long to give in and start begging for food. I've heard of important prisoners on hunger strike being held down and force-fed through a funnel— they wouldn't even do that for you. For the sake of your pride, they said. That's how important you are."

"Who was that officer?" Shin asked. "The stranger?"

It was the Minister of People's Security, the trusty explained, the head of all law enforcement in the country. "That's the first time I ever saw the Minister of People's Security come all the way out to the prison just because some prisoner was starving to death. He raised all kinds of hell."

"You must be joking."

The trusty shook his head, deep in thought. "You must be very favored for them to care what happens to you. Do you know someone? Who do you know?"

Shin closed his eyes. He thought of the prison around him: of the inmates tapping on each other's cell walls to communicate, of the ones suddenly and arbitrarily taken out to the yard to be executed, of their cruel and violent guards. For almost two years he had lived in brutal, meaningless captivity. Yet he didn't know a single person in the entire country.

Excerpted from A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer. Copyright © 2015 by Paul Fischer. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Propaganda and its Uses

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Dutch House
    The Dutch House
    by Ann Patchett

    There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you'd been standing on falls away ...

  • Book Jacket: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
    The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
    by Kim Michele Richardson
    A loyal animal companion, treks through gorgeous but forbidding wilderness, glimpses of larger ...
  • Book Jacket: Where the Light Enters
    Where the Light Enters
    by Sara Donati
    In this thrilling follow-up to The Gilded Hour, doctors Sophie and Anna Savard take on a baffling ...
  • Book Jacket: The Water Dancer
    The Water Dancer
    by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    For close to two decades, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been two writers. There's the celebrated essayist and...

Readers Recommend

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Overstory
by Richard Powers

"Monumental… A gigantic fable of genuine truths."—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

An enchanting story for fans of The Little Paris Bookshop and The Elegance of the Hedgehog.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

L, Damn L, A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.