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[Book Review] 'The Reluctant Communist'
Few new details offered by US defector to North Korea, Charles Jenkins
Thomas Johansmeyer (tomj)     Print Article 
Published 2008-03-19 10:02 (KST)   
The story of Charles Robert Jenkins is unique. Jenkins is one of a handful of Americans to defect into North Korea, and he is the only one to come back. So, curiosity should be enough to make his recent book, "The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea," interesting.

He has published, one would think, an account that cannot be found anywhere else. Unfortunately, Jenkins and his co-author, Jim Frederic of Time, really deliver little beyond the handful of interviews that have been published since Jenkins left North Korea in 2004. The story has been told substantially many times over, leaving little that is new.

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Jenkins' situation was straightforward. A sergeant in the U.S. Army, the little-educated North Carolinian feared the prospect of having to lead troops in combat, and Vietnam loomed large. So, with the courage that comes from drinking 10 cans of beer, Jenkins decided to cross the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), changing his life forever.

Shortly after arriving in North Korea, Jenkins realized his mistake. For nearly four decades, he suffered for his mistake.

Electricity and hot water were rare, as were full meals. But, abuse was present, in the form of daily psychological warfare from the controlling regime and frequent physical altercations with fellow defector James Dresnok.

For the uninitiated, "The Reluctant Communist" offers the broad strokes that will provide some insight into life north of the 38th parallel, a rare glimpse into the only real closed society on the planet.

North Korea watchers, on the other hand, will be extremely disappointed, having read most of the key points in the Far East Economic Review and Time, not to mention ancillary coverage in other publications. Jenkins' motivation has been published at length -- likewise the story of his return to the free world.

A few nuggets emerge in "The Reluctant Communist," including a detailed account of Jenkins' actual trek across the DMZ and the specifics of his stay in Jakarta before returning to Japan.

Like an old man intent on recalling details, regardless of their pertinence, Jenkins goes too deep on the wrong subjects. One learns the intricacies of making fishing nets and the engine sizes if the motorcycles that Jenkins rode upon resuming free life on Sado Island. The reader learns about everything that doesn't matter.

For those desperate for any new shred of new information about the Jenkins story or North Korea in general, "The Reluctant Communist" is unavoidable. The money is as good as spent. If nothing else, Jenkins' book provides some degree of closure in the wake of spotty media coverage.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Thomas Johansmeyer

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