Academic journal article The Historian

Roman Kim: The Ninja from the Ninja from the Lubianka

Academic journal article The Historian

Roman Kim: The Ninja from the Ninja from the Lubianka

Article excerpt

ON 14 MAY 1967, Roman Nikolaevich Kim died in Moscow. Kim was a writer whose books were published in the Soviet Union in a print-run of more than one million copies and which continue to be issued in contemporary Russia. He was a scholar-orientalist (vostokoved), author of several scholarly works, a literary translator who had introduced Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) to the Russian reader, and an interpreter who had worked with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971). Almost twenty years later an article by the journalist Hiroshi Kimura (b. 1936) was published with the title "The Life of a Man Who Had Three Motherlands and Became a Toy in the Hands of Fate." (2) Japanese readers learned from it that the Soviet author of detective stories was concomitantly a Korean prince and a most dangerous ace of counterespionage, who had worked all his life against Japan. In 2016 in Moscow, as part of the prestigious biographical book series The Life of Remarkable People (Zhizn' zamechatel'nykh liudei), my book titled Roman Kim saw the light, while an international conference was staged that was dedicated to the research of his biography and creative legacy. (3) Now much, much more became clear about the life of this writer and master of counterespionage. Nevertheless, like before, in some ways it almost seems that the only thing that we exactly know about him is that he died in 1967. This is how it is with dragons in fairy tales, nobody knows from where they come, and they are only encountered at the climax of the story...

THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND

In his official (i.e., government) biography, it is said that Roman Kim was born on 1 August 1899 in Vladivostok; archival documents exist that seem to confirm that fact. (4) In truth, however, from recently found materials in another archive it appears that he was born two years earlier, on 15 September 1897. (5) In the last years of his life, Roman Kim himself loved to talk about his origins, but few believed him. One of the few who did was Hiroshi Kimura. He wrote down the tales of his interlocutor, which related how his mother had been one Nadezhda (her Korean name was unknown) Min, and that Roman believed she was a Korean noblewoman. In the archives of the Soviet secret police an even more specific indication rendered by the son can be found: "My mother was the sister of Queen Min, who was assassinated by the Japanese in 1895." (6) Whether this is true or not has not yet been proven (Kim often consciously confused the data about his origins), but in any event, his relation to the Korean Queen Min (Myeongseong, 1851-95) became part of the great "Myth of Kim," a whole array of legends and hard-to-prove facts about his life.

As far as Roman's father is concerned, at first sight one gains a less equivocal idea only to find out subsequently that this is a false impression. This man was called Kim Byun Gak; Roman told how he had been a bureaucrat in the Korean treasury, while together with his wife he had belonged to the "Party of Russophiles," and later found sanctuary in Russian Vladivostok. (7) In 1902, Kim Byun Gak was already known in Vladivostok as a successful merchant going by the name Nikolai Kim. He administered a brick factory which made materials for the construction of Vladivostok's fortress, and a construction company which made stone houses in the center of town (Japanese people loved to live in them), and rented from Japanese entrepreneurs two steamships that imported beef for the needs of the Russian army. Nikolai Kim briskly accumulated a colossal sum of money (about 60,000 rubles) and became the only Korean member of the Vladivostok city duma (council). (8) It is not surprising that such activity drew the special attention of the Japanese community in the Russian Maritime province; the father of our hero became best friends with the Japanese consul in Vladivostok, and his house played the role of an unofficial gathering place for the richest foreigners in the area. …

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