Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
In 1989, a North Korean dissident writer, known to us only by the pseudonym Bandi, began to write a series of stories about life under Kim Il-sung’s totalitarian regime. Smuggled out of North Korea and set for publication around the world in 2017, The Accusation provides a unique and shocking window into this most secretive of countries.
Bandi’s profound, deeply moving, vividly characterized stories tell of ordinary men and women facing the terrible absurdity of daily life in North Korea: a factory supervisor caught between loyalty to an old friend and loyalty to the Party; a woman struggling to feed her husband through the great famine; the staunch Party man whose actor son reveals to him the theatre that is their reality; the mother raising her child in a world where the all-pervasive propaganda is the very stuff of childhood nightmare.
The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances — and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those who seek to suppress it.
I first heard about this book and the story around its eventual publication on The Guardian (see article). I was immediately intrigued–there’s no fiction coming out of this country, let alone dissent literature from a writer still living in said country, so after reading the article I immediately pre-ordered a copy for myself to check out.
The Accusation is a collection of several stories, each portraying the realities of life under a totalitarian regime from different walks of life: the poor affected by the famine, a mother, a worker whose father brought shame to the family, etc. They all discover the banality of their situation in different ways, whether it be through the lack of food to the lack of personal expression to the struggle between personal and state loyalities, and their realisation and struggle to survive thereon out is just heartbreaking and terrifying to read in equal terms: will they get out? Will they live? How can they continue with their daily lives knowing the reality of their situation? I was terrified for these characters, even the story recounting how they managed to smuggle Bandi’s works out of the country.
I know it’s not much of a review, but it’s very hard to reflect and recap on a book like this (didn’t help, I suppose, that I read this book whenever I was on lunch break at work), but’s really something to read and discover for yourself. It’s bizarre how a totalitarian regime of this nature (I remember a lot of my lessons about Soviet Russia and its version of the propaganda machine as I was reading this book) still exists in this day and age, but there you go. The writing and storytelling were interesting, definitely left me glued to the page and caring for these characters. All in all, definitely worth checking out and reading for yourself.