Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from My BBQ Shack in Hackensack

Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from My BBQ Shack in Hackensack

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by Robert Egan, Kurt Pitzer
     
 

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There was only one chair in the room. Fluorescent tubes on the ceiling hummed with blue light. The woman smiled and explained in a soothing voice that there were some "procedures" they had to go through.

"We're just going to put you under for a few minutes," she said. One of the officials told me to turn around..

"Do I have a choice?"

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Overview

There was only one chair in the room. Fluorescent tubes on the ceiling hummed with blue light. The woman smiled and explained in a soothing voice that there were some "procedures" they had to go through.

"We're just going to put you under for a few minutes," she said. One of the officials told me to turn around..

"Do I have a choice?" I lowered my pants, exposing most of my left butt cheek. The woman came up from behind me, and I felt a sharp prick as she pushed in the needle and rammed the solution into my muscle. When she finished, I sat down.

"Which agency do you work for? CIA?" asked the other male official.

"I operate independently," I said. I started to feel good. Very good. I had the urge to laugh, even though nobody had said anything funny. "I'm a lone wolf. And I make burgers for a living. I'm a burger-making lone wolf."

I must have blacked out for some of it. When I opened my eyes again, the two men were there, but the woman was gone. I wiped my nose, and my hand came away bloody. I suddenly felt so sick and dizzy I thought I'd had a stroke. "What the fuck?

In Pyongyang in 1994, Robert Egan was given Sodium Pentathol, or "truth serum," by North Korean agents trying to determine his real identity. What was he doing in the world's most isolated nation---while the U.S. government recoiled at its human-rights record and its quest for dangerous nukes? Why had he befriended one of North Korea's top envoys to the United Nations? What was Egan after? Fast-paced and often astounding, Eating with the Enemy is the tale of a restless restaurant owner from a mobbed-up New Jersey town who for thirteen years inserted himself into the high-stakes diplomatic battles between the United States and North Korea.

Egan dropped out of high school in working-class Fairfield, New Jersey, in the midseventies and might have followed his father's path as a roofing contractor. But Bobby had bigger plans for himself, and after a few years wasted on drugs and petty crime, his life took an astonishing turn when his interest in the search for Vietnam-era POWs led to an introduction in the early nineties to North Korean officials desperate to improve relations with the United States. So Egan turned his restaurant, Cubby's, into his own version of Camp David. Between ball games, fishing trips, and heaping plates of pork ribs, he advised deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Han Song Ryol, and other North Koreans during tumultuous years that saw the death of Kim Il-sung and the rise of Kim Jong-il, false starts toward peace during the Clinton administration, the Bush "Axis of Evil" era, and North Korea's successful test of a nuclear weapon in 2006. All the while, Egan informed for the FBI, vexed the White House with his meddling, chaperoned the communist nation's athletes on hilarious adventures, and nearly rescued a captured U.S. Navy vessel---all in the interest of promoting peace.

Egan parses U.S. foreign policy with a mobster's street smarts, and he challenges the idea that the United States should not have relations with its adversaries. The intense yet unlikely friendship between him and Ambassador Han provides hope for better relations between enemy nations and shows just how far one lone citizen can go when he tries to right the world's wrongs.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
International political relations are creatively managed by a New Jersey restaurant owner. In his 1992 sworn testimony, the author admitted to POW/MIA Affairs attorney John McCreary that he simply wished to "make a difference . . . to become part of the solution" in initiating positive dialogue between himself and Vietnamese political powerhouses. As the street-smart son of a blue-collar disciplinarian, Egan eschewed college for roofing work, abused cocaine and became a general troublemaker. Early on he developed an intense interest in the Vietnam War, which ended before he could enlist. Incensed by the many soldiers who remained unaccounted for by war's end, Egan brazenly contacted the Vietnamese Embassy in 1979, intent on getting answers to the missing POWs. Two years later, he opened Cubby's, a roadside barbeque restaurant that eventually became a base camp for his international-relations meetings. Vietnamese diplomats began to dine there, exchanging ideas and comparing their communist structure to America's capitalism-much to the extreme dismay of Egan's father, who notified the FBI. Believing his peacekeeping mission was fizzling, he settled into work at the restaurant, expanded the menu and moved in with his girlfriend. More than ten years after opening Cubby's, North Korean representatives visited, eager to "work together." Under the watchful eye of Feds assigned to Egan, he carefully befriended the North Koreans with New Jersey Nets tickets, catered Embassy lunches and fishing trips. Amid international political discord, a good-natured culture clash endured between Egan and North Korean deputy U.N. ambassador Han Song Ryol. While continually informing McCreary of developments,Egan and his new friends pondered nuclear-arms issues and rationalized governmental misinterpretations. The author also submitted to a truth serum-induced interrogation and endured a few nerve-wracking moments throughout both the Clinton and Bush regimes. An enlightening, and precarious, experiment in the ways opposing cultures can merge and acquiesce.
Publishers Weekly
"Why can't an ordinary guy have a solution for an extraordinary problem?" is the question that Robert Egan asks himself each morning. This energetic entrepreneur, owner and operator of a New Jersey diner, got his first taste of diplomacy when he befriended Vietnamese diplomats in the early '80s. But his real entre into the field was via Han Song Ryol, the North Korean ambassador to the U.N. Over platters of ribs, fishing trips, and ball games Egan slowly insinuates himself into inner circles that have confounded or eluded most career diplomats. The fearless Egan makes several trips to North Korea, replete with drug-induced interrogations, before nearly making a deal to recover the USS Pueblo. A bulldog with a heart of gold, Egan's genuine affection and desire to "do good" shines through his gruff exterior. Not only does he arrange for the North Korean Women's soccer team to compete in the U.S., he also sets up a shopping trip to a New Jersey Wal-Mart. Egan's ego looms large and his flip comments can be annoying, but readers still have to acknowledge that, for a guy who grew up on the streets settling scores with his firsts, he's accomplished a lot.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
New York Times
“A jaunty narrative of one man’s sometimes self-indulgent escapades in the face of government ambivalence.”
The New York Times
From the Publisher
“Narrator Traber Burns has a down-home style that sounds like he’s sitting on his porch telling us this unique personal story.”
AudioFile
Library Journal
In this engaging, off-the-wall memoir, Egan, a New Jersey restaurant owner, and journalist Pitzer tell the story of Egan's friendship with a member of North Korea's mission to the United Nations and Egan's subsequent adventures in unofficial diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. Egan frequently hosted North Korean diplomats at his "barbecue shack," Cubby's, and made several trips to North Korea. Thus he is able to convey behind-the-scenes information to readers. Egan's activism stemmed from his interest in American POWs in Vietnam, but readers also learn of his interactions with the Mafia and the FBI, not to mention North Korea and the restaurant business. His experience with North Korea, however, is the focus of the memoir and demonstrates the power that individual friendships formed across "enemy" lines can have. VERDICT Egan and Pitzer's down-to-earth language and irreverent style will appeal to readers looking for a funny, offbeat memoir about serious issues, but it will not appeal to scholars and students, as there is no research cited (no bibliography or endnotes).—Madeline Mundt, Univ. of Nevada, Reno

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429923682
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/27/2010
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
328,637
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt


There was only one chair in the room. Fluorescent tubes on the ceiling hummed with blue light. The woman smiled and explained in a soothing voice that there were some “procedures” they had to go through.

“We’re just going to put you under for a few minutes,” she said. One of the officials told me to turn around..

“Do I have a choice?” I lowered my pants, exposing most of my left butt cheek.  The woman came up from behind me, and I felt a sharp prick as she pushed in the needle and rammed the solution into my muscle. When she finished, I sat down.

“Which agency do you work for? CIA?” asked the other male official.

“I operate independently,” I said. I started to feel good. Very good. I had the urge to laugh, even though nobody had said anything funny. “I’m a lone wolf. And I make burgers for a living. I’m a burger-making lone wolf.”

I must have blacked out for some of it. When I opened my eyes again, the two men were there, but the woman was gone. I wiped my nose, and my hand came away bloody. I suddenly felt so sick and dizzy I thought I’d had a stroke. “What the fuck?”

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