I’ve been agog at the news lately, and I know we shouldn’t use clichés, but I was initially struck with the idea that the truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of Kim Jong-il, The Dear Leader of North Korea, was murdered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Though he was the oldest son, he was passed over for succession and now his brother Kim Jong-un is Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander (never quite sure of which title to use, and it seems the country themselves go by the adage, the more the merrier). It is widely speculated that Kim Jong-un orchestrated the death of his brother.
And what an orchestration. Kim Jong-nam was poisoned by the chemical nerve weapon VX (an internationally banned substance) in the very public airport, with CCTV recording and numerous eye-witnesses to hand. There is no doubt he died at the hands of two young women.
The women were easily captured. Neither knew the other – one is from Vietnam and one from Indonesia. Both women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank. You know, like the ones you see on television.
If this whole set-up isn’t completely and surreally ludicrous enough, there is more in the background to the murder. The victim was passed over for the leadership of North Korea because he wasn’t deemed fit. Trying to get to Japan to visit Disneyland appears to have been a last straw.
You couldn’t make it up.
But is truth stranger than fiction?
The news reports constantly make me think of Adam Johnson’s ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ (2012). This brilliant novel is set in North Korea. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and deservedly so. The structure is ambitious and the plot a rollercoaster as we follow Jun Do on his journey, including being sent across to kidnap unwary Japanese who happen to be taking a stroll on the beach, then as he down to the depths of the prison mines, and up to the heights of elite society in Pyongyang. He even gets to America. The story is full of absurdities.
As Johnson is not himself North Korean, there is always the question of authenticity of setting and the underlying ‘truth’ of such a work of fiction. I wasn’t reading it for that at the time – the characters and writing are too compelling, the experience is too absorbing to have been left room to question anything as I actually read.
The latest news reports seem to answer the question though.
Sometimes good fiction approximates the bizarreness of the real world. Good fiction can be as strange as the truth. And the truth is constantly surprising.
The image depicts ‘Kim jong ill riding the Korean wave.’ Thank you to the creative powers behind this Supreme, Glorious, Dear concoction.