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The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from…

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea

by Bandi

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Most so-called publishing sensations are IMO not worth reading, but The Accusation, Forbidden Stories from inside North Korea certainly is. My edition, published with financial assistance from the UK branch of PEN,gives a brief and circumspect explanation about how it is samizdat literature, smuggled out of North Korea. For safety’s sake, the author has chosen the pen name ‘Bandi’ meaning ‘firefly’, hoping to shine a light on the world’s most notoriously secretive regime. (A regime which might now be the trigger for nuclear war).

There are seven stories, all of them set during the rule of Kim Il-sung, grandfather of North Korea’s current leader Kim Jong-un, and each illuminating a different aspect of life in North Korea. For those of us who grew up reading samizdat from the former Soviet Union, or have read Yan Lianke’s satiric fictions about the Communist regime in China, there is a grim familiarity about it. ‘Record of a Defection’ (1989) depicts one of the worst forms of social control: punishing families and their descendants for petty infringements that happened decades ago. When the narrator finds a hidden packet of contraceptives he fears his wife’s infidelity, and in a sad parody of official surveillance he spies on her, only to discover that in fact she has been able to access his file and has realised the victimisation that lies in store for any child they might have. The story relies for effect on the distorted communication between the pair, the narrator’s false assumptions about his wife’s loyalty mirroring the false assumptions that the regime has about his loyalty to the state. It seems a simple story, but it’s revealing in its depiction of the implacability of a descendant’s position. It doesn’t matter what the offence was, or how trivial or false it might have been, there is no escape from its effects.

‘City of Specters’ (1993) (sic) reveals the ways in which a citizen can fall foul of the regime.

BTW Many people have awarded this book 5 stars. It's a five-star act of courage, but I've only given it 3, because no matter how worthy a book's intentions, I reserve 5 stars for the very best of world literature.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/05/01/the-accusation-by-bandi-translated-by-deborah-smith/ ( )
1 vote anzlitlovers | May 1, 2017 |
Stories of Endurance

Although the short stories in Bandi's "The Accusation" are presented as fiction, they probably give a sense of the real everyday life of average people in the recent past of North Korea. I'm thinking in comparison to say the more fantastical recent novel "The Orphan Master's Son" which takes a character through a wide-ranging journey from orphanages to spy-missions to prison camps and to the very top of the hierarchy.

The stories are dated from 1989 to 1995 and thus take place at the end of Kim Il-sung's and the beginning of his son Kim Jong-Il's dictatorships, i.e. they take place 1 to 2 generations before the current (early 2017) rule of grandson Kim Jong-Un in the Kim dynasty. This may make it seem as if the book was out of date, but it is unlikely that conditions have changed much in the Cult of Personality state. They have actually likely gotten worse as aid from the former Soviet Union dried up upon its dissolution in 1991.

Bandi's characters are drawn from a gamut of primarily regular people each of which is in a position to observe the effect of the regime on some aspect of their own, their families' or their friends' lives. It is all the more effective because of that.

Bandi's biography is somewhat described in the Afterword to the book, but it is likely disguised to prevent the regime's security services from tracking him down. A book of poetry is apparently also in preparation and two examples are provided in this current volume as "In Place of a Preface" and "In Place of Acknowledgements."

For more on the background of the book, see "Stranger than Fiction: How a Forbidden Book was Smuggled Out of North Korea." ( )
  alanteder | Apr 13, 2017 |
I cannot overstate the importance of The Accusation by Bandi. It is possible that this is the most noteworthy work to be published this year. This is a FIRST in literary history: the first piece of dissident literary fiction to come from a writer currently living inside North Korea. Written between 1989 and 1995 (during the last years of Kim Il-sung's life and the beginning of The Arduous March)--never meant to be seen by any eyes in the author's homeland besides his own--these six stories and a poem, highlight the everyday lives of the people--from all stations--who live under these oppressive regimes. While here in the West, we've heard these kinds of stories from defectors, we have no idea what the literary tradition in North Korea looks like outside of propaganda novels, memoirs, and poetry. We simply don't know how North Korean writers craft stories, establish themes, develop characters; we don't know what are popular genres. And it is possible we may never read another word from Bandi after this. And so Deborah Smith proves once again that she is a champion translator, talented and compassionate, able to interpret the author's intent while simultaneously weaving the narratives that are compelling to Western readers. With the ability to perform such a weighty task as this one--with what is possibly someone's life's work--I would not be surprised if she won another award this year. I think this is a Nobel Prize-worthy work. ( )
  Jan.Coco.Day | Mar 31, 2017 |
Dubbed “the Solzhenitsyn of Pyongyang,” Bandi is the pseudonym of a dissident North Korean author, and these are the first published stories written by a person still living under that repressive regime.
The seven stories in this collection were written between 1989 and 1995, a particularly bleak period at the start of a severe five-year famine, when Great Leader Kim Jong-un’s grandfather and father ruled the country. Like the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram, the stories share commonalities both in the psychological challenges their protagonists face and in the external environment they must negotiate. These common themes create an indelible impression of Bandi’s world.
Paranoia is prominent. A person who deviates from expectations in any way or complains about anything, significant or trivial, risks being observed, reported, and denounced. The actor in the story “On Stage” titles Act One of his satirical—and dangerous—skit: “It Hurts, Hahaha,” and Act Two: “It Tickles, Boohoo!”—to underscore how people must act according to expectations and contrary to their true feelings. This stunt, predictably, ends in disgrace.
Denunciation can lead to banishment from the city to a life of extreme privation in the country, even death. But death does not end a family’s downfall. A father’s error curtails the educational and occupational prospects for his children and grandchildren, as described in the collection’s first story, “Record of a Defection,” in which a family risks everything to try to escape this collective fate.
Winters are bitter, food is never plentiful, and loudspeakers harangue the population. Their constantly blaring messages from the government are full of “alternative facts.”
The stories were translated by Deborah Smith, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. Bandi’s writing style is markedly different from that of Western fiction, with little description and with character development mainly through action and dialog. This bracing style fits material with so much implicit drama and heartache. (For a more immersive approach, you might read the richly plotted Pulitzer Prize-winning Adam Johnson novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, which also puts North Korea’s absurdities and ironies on full display.)
Do Bandi’s stories give the impression that the North Korean people recognize the peculiar nature of their system and its injustices? Absolutely. And if the people are called upon to fulfill some outrageous government edict, will they break their backs trying to do so? Absolutely.
The story of how the book came to be smuggled out of the country and ultimately found its way into print is an exciting tale in itself, included as an afterword. For that heroic effort alone, the book is worthy of attention. It also can’t hurt to foster greater understanding of the suffering that ensues when totalitarian leadership proceeds to its natural end-state. The North Korea Bandi describes is one Westerners may have difficulty comprehending, yet the fact that in 2017 it exists at all proves it is not impossible. ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Mar 20, 2017 |
North Korea, a closed society, books and news have been filtering out in the last several years. In these seven stories, based on experiences and thoughts of the people as told to the author, we learn some of the harsh realities of living under this type of dictatorship, cut off from the rest of the world. They are as enlightening and harsh as one could imagine. The way the book made it out of North Korea, or that it even did, is amazing as is the way these stories are told. This information and more, some of the author's background is chronicled in the afterword.

All of these stories serve to highlight the huge disconnect between outward emotion, thoughts, actions and internal feelings. Of being constantly watched for loyalty and love to the great leader, any independent action suspect, even those with valid reasons. Family reputation everything, of not being looked on favorably if a family member had done something, no matter how small, considered against the regime, never being able to rise above this status, for any family member, not ever. Of praising the regime for its generosity while not having enough to eat, fuel to stay warm nor even to gain permission to stay home with a sick child, visit a dying mother. Banishment to the far outreaches, internment in a work camp and even death the penalties. Horrifically unbelievable, yet it happens again and again, happens still and not just in North Korea.

ARC from Netgalley. ( )
  Beamis12 | Mar 14, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802126200, Hardcover)

The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships. The characters of these compelling stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from a young mother living among the elite in Pyongyang whose son misbehaves during a political rally, to a former Communist war hero who is deeply disillusioned with the intrusion of the Party into everything he holds dear, to a husband and father who is denied a travel permit and sneaks onto a train in order to visit his critically ill mother. Written with deep emotion and writing talent, The Accusation is a vivid depiction of life in a closed-off one-party state, and also a hopeful testament to the humanity and rich internal life that persists even in such inhumane conditions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 29 Dec 2016 21:11:19 -0500)

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