As Kim Il-Sung ascended from Soviet puppet to godlike ruler and plunged his country into war against the United States, No Kum Sok noisily pretended to love his Great Leader. An elite fighter pilot and graduate of the North Korean Naval Academy, he escaped at the age of twenty-one by flying his MiG-15 out of North Korea and landed in Seoul on September 21, 1953, delivering the plane to the Americans, not knowing they were offering a $100,000 bounty for the warplane (the equivalent of nearly one million dollars today). The theft—just weeks after the Korean War ended—electrified the world and incited Kim’s bloody vengeance.
Harden also sheds light on a seldom-discussed historical fact: during the Korean War, the United States brutally carpet-bombed North Korea, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and giving the Kim dynasty the fact-based narrative it uses to this day to inspire hatred of the United States. This narrative, in the Kim family’s telling, also justifies North Korea’s isolation, poverty and its need for endless spending on military hardware.
Using new government documents found in Chinese and Russian archives about the role of Mao and Stalin in Kim’s shadowy rise, as well as No Kum Sok’s never-before-released U.S. government intelligence files, Harden gives us a heart-pounding escape adventure and an entirely new way to understand the world’s longest-lasting totalitarian state.
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ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT:
“A rewarding book with much to offer, including the likely spark of new interest in how singular choices made by both men and nations can reverberate for generations.”
“Harden delivers another page-turner about a North Korean who got out alive, despite staggering odds, in this real-life thriller that unfolds during the Korean War.”
“Blaine Harden takes us on a fascinating journey deep into the dark origins of the North Korean state, leavened by a stirring account of one young man's courageous quest to escape it. Thoroughly transporting.”
—Daniel James Brown, bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat
“I could not put this book down. The interwoven stories of Kim Il-Sung and MiG fighter pilot No Kum Sok are carefully researched and artfully told. Harden shows how each man played the system to achieve his lifelong goal—in Kim's case, the creation of a personality cult and oppressive regime, and in No's case, defection from it. Harden succeeds in offering a unique lens on North Korean history and politics that offers something for both the general and expert readership.”
—Dr. Victor Cha, Professor of Government and Director of Asian Studies, Georgetown University; former National Security Council director for Asian affairs, 2004-7
(Photo from the author's site)
BLAINE HARDEN is the author of Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent; A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia; and Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Africa won a PEN American Center citation for first book of nonfiction. Escape from Camp 14 was both a New York Times and an international bestseller published in twenty-seven languages. Harden formerly served as The Washington Post’s bureau chief in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. He lives in Seattle.