(Jason Lee / Courtesy Reuters)
The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia BY ANDREI LANKOV. Oxford University Press, 2013, 304 pp. $27.95.
Around 10:30 PM on April 3, Lee Hyeok-cheol, a fisherman who had defected from North Korea six years earlier, stole a boat docked on South Korean–controlled Yeonpyeong Island and sped back to the country he had abandoned. South Korean surveillance did not pick up his vessel for 15 minutes, and by the time they could organize a pursuit, Lee had already crossed into North Korean waters. The boat’s owner managed to get a call through to Lee, imploring him to come back to the South, but Lee would have none of it: “You son of a bitch!” he replied. “You should have been nicer to me when I was there!”
Lee made his daring nighttime voyage during a period of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. In late March, North Korea had been launching an almost daily barrage of threats against the United States and had cut off the military hotline to South Korea. In a demonstration of support for Seoul, Washington sent a pair of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers to do a mock bombing run off the west coast of South Korea. And South Korean officials responded by promising to bomb downtown Pyongyang, including statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, if North Korea attacked. The new Korean heads of state -- Kim Jong Un in the North and Park Geun-hye in the South -- were off to a particularly bad start.