Michael Malice is one of those uniquely New York characters. An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, the thirty-six year old with spikey hair, cunning eyes, and a constant mischievous grin has made a name for himself in a number of strange ways. First, he’s a famous celebrity ghost writer, which in itself is ironic; his hits include UFC fighter Matt Hughes’ New York Times best-selling memoir Made in America: The Most Dominant Champion in UFC History. The legendary comic book writer Harvey Pekar captured his specific brand of grating charm in Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story.
Now Malice is on a mission to draw attention to the unimaginable nightmare that North Koreans live every day in Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il. The project was inspired by the totalitarian regime that he and his family escaped in the Soviet Union and a recent trip to North Korea where Malice stocked up on stomach-churning propaganda.
The books Malice lugged home in his suitcase include: Kim Jong Ill: The Lodestar of the 21st Century; Kim Jong Ill: The Leader of Youth Movement; The Leadership Philosophy of Kim Jong Ill; A Paen of Great Love: Kim Jong Ill and The People; Kim Jong Ill in His Young Days; The Great Man: Jong Ill; The US Imperialists Started the Korean War; Kim Jong Ill: Genius of Revolution; Anecdotes of Kim Jong Il’s Life; Kim Jong Il: Aphorisms; US: The Empire of Terrorism; The Leader Kim Jong Il; Kim Jong Il: The People’s Leader; and Kim Jong Il: The Genuine People’s Leader.
Malice is digging through these books so we don’t have to. In an interview with the Observer published yesterday, he explains:
“[Jong-il] was painfully aware that when the people cheered for him, it was fake. And he’s an evil, horrible man with the blood of millions on his hands, but you have to humanize him a bit.”
In that way, Mr. Malice acknowledged that the book will be harder to write than previous ones. He genuinely likes the people he has ghostwritten for and keeps in touch with them to this day. Kim Jong-il? Not so much. But, he added, the “Dear Leader,” as he was known, was such a boring thinker that it won’t be much of a challenge to get inside his head. (The first sentence of the book: “I remember the day that I was born perfectly.”)
“His worldview is very simplistic,” Mr. Malice noted. “When you’re not in touch with reality, you don’t have to have a nuanced philosophy.”
While Mr. Malice plans to make the book comical, he wants more than anything to draw attention to the plight of the North Korean people. To do so, he will have to play devil’s advocate, a role he is not unfamiliar with.
In the book, which Mr. Malice plans to have finished by October, readers will find a defense of the North Korean prison camps, among other things.
“I think it’s really important that people are aware of the extent of what’s going on there,” Mr. Malice explained. “So I have to have him talk about it, which he wouldn’t really do otherwise.”
Clearly it’s no laughing matter that an estimated 200,000 North Koreans are trapped in concentration camps. The government denies that these camps exist, but according to recent satellite photos the gulag continues to expand. Kept in hellish conditions, prisoners are tortured and starved, and an estimated 20-percent of the inmates die each day. Those who escape and flee into China are sent back.
Malice is taking an Orwell approach to exploring the insanity that built this evil system. Like Orwell explained the horrors of Stalinism in a children’s book about talking farm animals, Malice is the ventriloquist for the mass-murdering dummy that is Jong-il. As someone whose family also escaped the Soviet Union, I am grateful for a book like Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il. To learn more about this book, which Malice was able to write thanks to raising over $30,000 on Kickstarter, watch his fundraising video here or follow him on Twitter.
For another chilling read, check out The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, the story of Charles Robert Jenkins. At twenty-four years old, while serving in the U.S. army in South Korea, Jenkins avoided fighting in Vietnam by bolting to the terror regime. His surreal memoir, written with Time contributing editor Jim Frederick, is a notable must-read for understanding North Korea.