To go public with such juicy tidbits is enough to invite the death penalty – even for those who manage to flee the country. Activists agree such fear is not the stuff of paranoia. “It’s very dangerous to write about North Korea,” says Peter Chung, who runs an organization in Seoul called Justice for North Korea, which is dedicated to helping defectors.
“In the Dictator’s Service,” written in German by Austrian journalists Ingrid Steiner-Gashi and Dardan Gashi, reveals the dietary cravings and demands, the parties and the lovely surroundings, in which Kim Il-sung existed for much of the 49 years that he ruled North Korea. He died in 1994 after ensuring that his son, Kim Jong-il, would succeed him.
It may be even more dangerous to write about the man who's known in the North as the Dear Leader.
The nephew of Song Hye-rim, a woman who became either Kim Jong-il’s second wife or longtime consort, and bore his oldest son, was assassinated in Seoul in 1997 after writing memoirs about the dictator. Lee Han-young had been living in Seoul since defecting in 1982 until a pair of gunmen killed him outside the apartment of a friend.
“Kim Jong-il’s private life is not normal,” says Mr. Chung. “It is a crime to speak out about it.”
It is even a crime to have known anything about it, according to a book published here by Kim Young-seung, a schoolgirl friend of Ms. Song.
Ms. Kim, held for nine years in one of North Korea’s infamous prison camps for the worst political offenders, says she never was told the charge against her but came to know during months of torture that her offense was that she had been "a friend of the second wife of Kim Jong-il, and I knew about his private life.”
Her closest relatives were imprisoned as well. During her imprisonment, her parents starved to death, one of her sons drowned, another was shot trying to escape, and her husband "disappeared.”
"Even the beasts would be ashamed to be there," Kim says.