NORTH KOREA: Bandi's 'The Accusation', smuggled out of North Korea, is a victory for world literatureBy Michael Barron
The Culture Trip (17.03.2017) -- The canon of the 20th century is marked by writers who were sent off to prison or exiled, who were savagely beaten or tortured, or who were executed for their words. Literature is made richer by the risks writers have taken to get their work past censorship and into sympathetic hands-risks that are still very much a reality in many parts of the world. PEN International tracks hundreds of persecuted writers around the world each year, tirelessly documenting the status of their cases, and promoting awareness and advocacy with international campaigns, including a Day of the Imprisoned Writer.
And yet it's because of the risks involved that we know about the cruelties of the Gulag, or of life in the prisons of the Khmer Rouge, or of the persecutions of Cuban revolutionaries. Add to this dissident literary canon The Accusation-a collection of seven stories set in North Korea during the twilight rule of Kim il-sung (the grandfather of Kim Jong-un), and the "Arduous March," a period of famine that followed his passing. While there are North Korean writers who, after defecting to the South, have contributed scathing words about life in the North, the publication of The Accusation, written by the pseudonymous Bandi (meaning "firefly") is the first work by a writer still living in the Hermit Kingdom to be smuggled out for international publication.
Rendered in English by the preeminent translator of Korean literature Deborah Smith, The Accusation is revelatory in its unveiling of North Korean society. As a single-party totalitarian state, privilege is granted only to its members, whereas low social standing is only a step away from penance. The characters who inhabit The Accusation, based in large part on the experiences of real people, all fall victim to the ideologies of the Party, and the nuance of their penitential woes and belated disillusionment can be sobering to read. As South Korean writer Kim Seong-dong writes in his afterword:
"Bandi took upon himself the role of a spokesperson denouncing the misery inflicted on the North Korean people by North Korean-style socialism, a system riddled with internal contradictions...one by one, he collected instances in which citizens were forced to swallow this painful reality, without being able to breathe a word of complaint."