In order to be the odd one out of a notoriously psychotic family, one has to wonder if that black sheep is actually sane. And if the accounts from Yoji Gomi, a Japanese reporter at the Tokyo Shimbun and author of the book, My Father, Kim Jong-il and I, are to be believed, that does appear indeed to be the case.
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the reclusive dead despot of North Korea met Gomi by chance in an airport, and through a series of email exchanges and interviews, a slightly different image of the internal dynamics of the hermit kingdom emerges. Kim claims that he lost his father’s favor not because of a diplomatic snafu he caused when he was trying to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland on forged documents (oops), but because after his years of schooling in Switzerland, he was a convert to the cause of liberalization and reform. This didn’t sit well with dear old papa Kim, and he was shunted aside in favor of his younger half brother, Kim Jong-un, in a dynastic shuffle to preserve the stability of the country and prop up the status quo. Since his exile, Kim Jong-nam has lived in gaming mecca of Macau in China, and basically lives the life you would expect (gambling, drinking, eating and chasing tail).
Kim Jong-nam also makes the case for his father, as any good son should, trying to paint a softer picture than the one to which we’ve become accustomed, saying that many of the bloody hardline policies that have emanated from North Korea were foisted onto his father by circumstances and competing factions. While much of what he claims in the book appears to pass the sniff test, this part is a bit of a stretch.
Things are always different than how they appear from the outside. I expect that this book would probably enlighten, to a certain extent, but no matter what sort of heartfelt descriptions we get of tender childhood moments, there’s no way that you’re going to get me to believe anything other than the fact that Kim Jong-il was a bloodthirsty and mentally unbalanced despot.