the gift of the people


IN THE EARLY 1990s, Kim Jong Il became the world’s leading purchaser of Hennessy Paradis, a cognac legendary for its complexity and finesse. Paradis usually retails for a few hundred dollars a bottle, though in Kim’s case bulk discounts may have applied: The North Korean leader–who, according to a former personal chef, has “an exceptionally discriminating palate”–was said to be spending $700,000 to $800,000 a year on it. Such a liquor tab fits the sort of pathological decadence described by defectors and national leaders who have spent time with Kim. The same former chef reports being sent on shopping trips to Denmark for pork, Czechoslovakia for beer, and Uzbekistan for caviar. A former Russian presidential envoy has described a 2001 state visit in which Kim traveled across the country in a private train stocked with crates of Bordeaux, flat-screen televisions, and a retinue of female performers. Live lobsters were flown in to await the train’s chefs at points along the route.

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