When author and journalist Kurt Pitzer told me he recently co-authored a book with Robert Egan, my brain started flipping though the memory rolodex...Egan Egan. Wait. THE BOBBY EGAN?!? Bobby Egan has been my party trick for the past year. You know the one you use when you come to that awkward moment at the cocktail party when no one knows what to say...that's when I bust out the outrageous story about Bobby Egan to kick start a good conversation. Truth be told, I wouldn't have taken so much interest in Bobby Egan if my coworkers hadn't been taken hostage in North Korea. However, Laura and Euna were held captive for four months, making me think about North Korea for the first time since, well...MASH.
So back to my party trick~ Bobby's story is so outrageous that it's hard to believe. It goes like this, "Did you hear that crazy story about the restaurant owner in New Jersey who became a self appointed diplomat to North Korea?" Of course I couldn't say too much more than what I just shared since all I knew was from a short article published in the New Yorker last year. But now you can read the whole incredible story thanks to Kurt Pitzer and Robert Egan joining forces to recount the recent political history between American and North Korea through Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from my BBQ shack in Hackensack.
It has an unlikely beginning, given that Egan dropped out of high school and fell into a life of drugs and small time crime, but his life took an unexpected turn when his interest in POWs eventually led to an unexpected meeting with North Korean officials desperate to improve relations with the US.
The personal relationship between Egan and North Korea's Deputy Ambassador to the U.N., Han Song Ryol, read like something between a spy thriller and a romance novel. Theirs is a complex and strong bond between two men each struggling to survive their different worlds; their relationship a path that led each into an arena they most desired. Their epic adventures in the name of keeping international peace are hilarious, and border on unbelievable; from fist fights in a war museum in North Korea, to voluntarily taking unknown intravenous drugs administered by North Korean officials, to hair raising events at the Atlanta Olympics, to escaping FBI surveillance to go deep sea fishing, to nearly rescuing a captured US Navy vessel. Through it all, Egan approaches the world with the heart of a saint and street smarts developed growing up on the fringe of the mafia, "The only reason a destitute country like theirs spends billions trying to build nuclear weapons is that they feel insecure. If they were better off, they wouldn't be so paranoid; and if they weren't so paranoid, they wouldn't want a nuke so badly...."
"We should be eating with our enemies not fighting them," is Egan's motto, and as proof, the multiple accounts of how he seduced foreign diplomats and hit men alike with his famous BBQ ribs left me licking my lips and fantasizing about visiting his restaurant in Hackensack, New Jersey. Eating with the Enemy takes you under the rug of society before you even know you're headed there and shows the distance between common sense and what actually happens in the world of politics. Egan's awareness of his drive to influence the world he is living in makes him endearing, his frank talk of addiction, and how he's replaced a love for cocaine with the rush that comes with being involved with international politics doesn't just provide insight into this unlikely character, but into leaders around the world. After all, asks Egan, "..why can't an ordinary guy have a solution to an extraordinary problem?"
You can buy the book at Amazon, or support your local Indy book store though this link.