Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung

“The General will now enter the room.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 368 pages.
Read from December 12, 2017 to December 15, 2017.

Who isn’t curious about North Korea? It is a strange and secretive country with an eccentric, peculiar, and potentially very dangerous leader that shuts out the world. How much of the North Korean propaganda is true? Are the people there truly sheltered and do they suffer? If you believe this defector and author of this memoir it will only make you hungry for more information on this fascinating country.

Jang Jin-Sung, a pseudonym for a North Korean man who was a famous and well-respected poet and government official. His life was much easier than many of his other friends and family due to his high ranking status. He was special as he was allowed into the small inner circle of people who got to meet their “Dear Leader” in person due to how well received his poetry was. Jin-Sung worked within The United Front Department (UFD) which is “responsible for inter-Korean espionage, policy-making and diplomacy” and in Jin-Sung’s job he was responsible for writing poetry and praise for North Korea under the facade of the praise coming from other countries, like South Korea. In order to do that, he was allowed to read South Korean newspapers and writings in order to keep with the style and approach of the writers there. The work was dangerous and highly controlled as with new ideas comes the idea that the North Korean regime is lesser. However, Jin-Sung began to question his “Dear Leader” after meeting him in person and after following a trail of dangerous thoughts and actions it eventually made him realise that he needed to defect or risk his life and potentially his whole family’s.

“I was restless with yearning to write realist poetry based on what I saw, and not loyalist poetry based on what we were all told to see.”

The harrowing description that Jin-Sung leaves an impoverished stifled and scared nation of people is hard to read. His escape is tragic and reads like a terrifying thriller that you are too afraid to look away from. I was completely engrossed in the story and was left hungry for more by the end. Books like this and others like them have come under scrutiny for their authenticity or have left many wondering how much was embellished for the sake of publications. It is almost easier to NOT believe that North Korea is a terrible as this book makes it sound as it is hard to fathom that so many people are living in such an oppressed and psychologically inhumane way. If this novel is as true as the author claims, it makes me thankful that my life is my own, that I have food in my belly, and that I express myself how I see fit.

“One reason why North Korea is unable to pursue reform and open itself more to the world is that this would risk exposing core dogmas of the state as mere fabrications.”

Whether you want to believe all, some or none of what is in this book you can’t deny the books high readability and enjoyability. In fact, this book made my top five favourite non-fiction reads of 2017 I enjoyed it so much. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history, espionage, North Korea or memoirs. I can assure you that Jin-Sung’s story is not one you are likely to forget.

 

 

 

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor

“At Auschwitz dying was so easy. Surviving was a full time job.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 175 pages.
Read from May 12, 2017 to May 13, 2017.

I wanted this book off Netgalley but it was no longer available. Dammit. Well, I wanted to read it so badly that I bought it. I was not disappointed.

Eva and her twin, Miriam, were just 10 years old when they were ripped away from their family. It was the middle of WWII and they were among the many Jews being taken to Auschwitz. Eva and Miriam never saw their family again and their survival began from the fact that they were identical twins. As twins, they were given a bit of special treatment compared to the other Jews as the Nazi’s were invested in keeping them alive, at least for a brief period of time. Dr. Josef Mengele, or the Angel of Death, as he became known carried out hundreds of inhumane experiments on twins. Twins were injected with nasty diseases and forced into experiments that killed most of them.

“I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ 

After fighting to stay alive though the experiments, even at 10, Eva was stubborn and driven to survive. Her uncanny resilience and skills are what kept her and her sister alive during their time in the Auschwitz camp. Eva never did discover what she was injected with despite her extensive research efforts as an adult. The outcome of these injections left both Eva and Miriam with lifelong repercussions and symptoms.

The scene that has been etched into my mind is the one Eva describes near the end of her story. Shortly after the camps had been abandoned by the Nazi’s, the remaining prisoners were struggling to survive and find food, many of them to weak or scared to leave the camp. While Eva is out looking for food she encounters a young normal-looking German girl on her way to school. Eva, in her thin and decrepit form, just stares at the girl. She is mortified to know that that people are living such regular lives while her and her sister lived through hell. Thankfully, the pair and the remainder of the prisoners were saved shortly thereafter.

eva moses kor

Eva’s story is jaw-dropping. I only put the book down because I had to, otherwise I would have read the whole book in one sitting. You get to know Eva and her family personally as she shares a less common (but equally horrifying) story of the Nazi era.

Eva’s advocacy and courage continued throughout her life with the creation of CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors).  She is also an advocate for forgiveness and has personally forgiven former Nazi’s for their part in the war.

If you have any interest in human resilience, survival, history, and just general awe-inspiring inspiration then I highly recommend this short read.

Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

“Sometimes you just do things.” – probably the best line to live by. Whether it is athletics or the hardships of life, Scott Jurek takes us through the unconventional life of a ultra-marathon, super star runner.

Uncovering the life of a super human, ultra-marathon, vegan athlete. Yes, vegan.

4/5 stars
Hardcover, 272 pages.
Read from August 08 to 09, 2016.

“Sometimes you just do things.” – this line, from this novel has not left my brain since I read it. Not only has it popped up during some of my own difficult training runs but it has also helped me though some of the everyday realities of life. I could have said the everyday struggles of life, but that is putting a negative spin on the reality of life. Sometimes you just do things , and there isn’t any better truth than that.

Scott Jurek was an ordinary boy who grew into an extraordinary adult by committing to his beliefs and just doing what he believed he needed to do. Scott is one of the best ultra-marathoners in the world. Not only that, he is a vegan. Yes, it is true. This ultra-athlete contributes some of his success to his diet and shares with his readers that not only is veganism plausible for extreme athletes, but that it is also ideal. Yes, Scott has immense natural talent but the majority of his success come from his demeanor and attitude. This book is the story of Scott’s life, from the childhood that shaped him to his career as an ultra-marathoner.

Now I am not sure I have what it takes to be a vegan but Scott sure inspired me to push my limits. I have always wanted to run an ultra-distance race and this book solidified the belief that I could do one. It has also confirmed my own beliefs about eating real food for fuel. Every runner has to find what works best for them and I know for me, I can’t cope with the nasty tasting gels and some of the energy and protein bars that are provided to keep runners fueled during long distance runs. Now, I don’t know if I am ready to start hauling out my own hummus and pita breads on a run, but I will continue to make my own electrolyte drinks and will attempt to make some of my own fuel for my runs and races.

This isn’t just a book for runners though, as the book is full of outstanding, easy and realistic vegan recipes that anyone can use. Jurek ends every chapter with a delicious vegan recipe that is appealing to all types of eaters. That says a lot coming from me, as I do not cook. I snapped a few pictures of few recipes from this book, this is one of my favourites and I am looking forward to making it once the weather cools off:

2016-08-09 17.11.20.jpg
Minnesota Winter Chili

I devoured this book. I remember when I read Born to Runand just how much I loved it. Well, this book is infinitely better. For one, Jurek is a superior writer to McDougall and has a gift not only for running, but for writing. His story line is seamless and easy to follow, which is the biggest problem I had with McDougall’s book. Additionally, while you get all the details of Jurek’s personal life, he also gives you a detailed experience of his races and what goes through his head during these times. So if you want to be inspired and want to think like a world-class athlete, then read this book. Even if you are not a runner, you will appreciate the intensity, dedication and sheer willpower that Jurek exudes in his running as well as with his personal lifestyle choices.

Fortune favours the brave, and Jurek is one amazing example of this. If you have ever been curious about the vegan diet or how it works with athletes, become inspired, or just want to read an amazing story of human fortitude then this book is for you.