This is a book with two subtitles. The cover promises an account of the ‘Secret Rise and Rule’ of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. The title page promises a treatise on the ‘Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un’. The first intimates an ambition to provide a highbrow contribution to our knowledge of North Korea. The second suggests that the author has given in to the temptation to extemporise on the ludicrous hyperbole that characterises North Korean state propaganda and makes the country such an easy target for ridicule. Herein lies a problem that the book never quite manages to resolve, making for a sometimes wobbly narrative.
The Great Successor is structured as a biography. It traces Kim Jong Un’s childhood and education in North Korea and Switzerland and his emergence as leader-in-waiting after his father, Kim Jong Il (who died in 2011), suffered a stroke in 2008. The author, Anna Fifield, is a journalist who