The Accusation by Bandi is a collection of short stories written over a period of many years before being smuggled out of North Korea via China. The author is still living in North Korea, and his identity is secret. Bandi, his chosen pseudonym, is Korean for Firefly.
My Rating: 4.5/5
Record of a Defection is an account of defection, a man grows suspicious after finding a packet of pills his wife has hidden away in their apartment. As the account continues, we unravel the story of the pills, but also the story of inherited guilt in North Korean society.
City of Specters is a story of a mother whose infant son has developed a fear of the image of Karl Marx. She is confident that the Party will not see a child’s fears as an act of treason, but her husband isn’t so sure.
Life of a Swift Steed tells of a factory supervisor who receives a call from the military police to give a character reference on one of his employees. The employee is a decorated hero and old family friend of the manager, so after the call he visits and tries to find out why this previously dedicated citizen seems to have fallen out of favor.
So Near, Yet So Far is the story of a man trying to visit his dying mother, but travel is strictly regulated and the village his mother lives in is not reachable due to a Class One Event.
Pandamonium tells the story of a Grandmother who is caught up in a wave of propaganda, while her husband and granddaughter are stranded in an overcrowded train station without food – due to that same propaganda event.
On Stage takes place during the mandatory mourning period of Ki Il-Sung, it is told through the eyes of a Bowibu (secret police) officer whose son seems to have figured out the reality of North Korean life, much to the dismay of his father.
The Red Mushroom is the story of a man who, by a cruel twist of fate is pulled from a high position in Pyongyang and sent to grow soybeans on reclaimed land.
This was a really good read, with strong characters and a great deal of soul in the writing. Although this is a work of fiction, the types of stories are real and remind me of true accounts from defectors. It’s hard to say a book about oppression in North Korea was enjoyable to read, but it was a good book and I’m glad I read it.
My only con would be that you need some understanding of North Korea or be willing to look stuff up. For example, I didn’t know it was common to refer to a grown man as ‘father of (child’s name)’ or what a Class One Event was, or what the Bowibu were. You can figure things out, but it would have been nice if the translator has included a brief description.
Thank you for reading!