Do you still worry about and miss your students in Pyongyang?
Of course, I do, but at the same time I went there to write a book, so I think that's where the division is. It's not like I was really a teacher, I was a writer undercover. Although I did love them, while I was in that role, they were not really my students. There was this distance, because they were the subjects of my book. I wrote a book, I studied it for a decade, and the book is finished. Of course, I think about them and I worry about them, but it is not like a real mother missing her sons, no.
What do you think your students would say if they could read your book?
Obviously, they are never going to. But I think they would understand it. As a writer, as a communicator of the free world I cannot imagine anything more inhumane than having your voice be trapped and destroyed, and never being delivered to the outside. My young men, that I used to call gentlemen, because I kind of hoped that they would be gentle, these young gentlemen that I loved were 20, but they never were allowed to enjoy the blessing of being 20. It's a privilege to be young, and 19-20 is such a beautiful age, and I think that I witnessed this beautiful youth being destroyed. They were never allowed to go anywhere, they would always be in that school, never allowed to keep in touch with anybody, not allowed to know about the Internet, although they were computer majors – this was stifling for them. But the sparkle that I have noticed at times, that is all in the book. Their incredible humanity and loveliness, I thought that it was my job as a writer to document that, because we don't see that about North Korea. What the outside world sees is these incredibly hungry people or a crazy dictator, or this horrible American comedy stuff like 'The Interview', which is a ridiculous, shameful portrayal of North Koreans. I think I wanted to break that down, to deliver the portrait of the real people. They are not the other, they are like us. And I think that they would be glad to see, if they could ever possibly read the book, that their stunning beauty of humanity is captured in the book.
Is there anything you would like to say to people who will be reading this interview?
It's a mind boggling and horrifying problem – North Korea. For this to continue for 70 years, I think the world is complicit. We have to face up to that. When it is ongoing for this long, it is basically a one big gulag, and the world is just sitting in the distance, kind of casually making fun of this situation. Kim Jon Un had become a sort of a hipster joke. I do think that it is because we don't know anything about North Korea. We need more and more voices to speak up, to bring more awareness to the topic. What has actually happened to this subject is shameful. What I want to ask the world is: is this the best we can do as human beings? É