Book Review — The Accusation

The Accusation by Bandi

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi is a collection of short stories that take place in North Korea around the transition of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Bandi, a pseudonym, is more of a mysterious person. He lived in North Korea and presumably still does. His writings have been smuggled out of North Korea and have been published in South Korea and France. Bandi is Korean for firefly and is shedding his little bit of light in a dark country.

Anyone who is trying to stay current on North Korea has read the recent nonfiction and quickly comes to realize how little is actually known about the country. After a few books, the reader will see the same stories repeat over again. Most of what is written about North Korea comes from defectors and their stories have been well used. Jang Jin-sung, poet laureate, and South Korea propaganda expert was the only high-level government official to defect until very recently. He offered more of an understanding of the whys of the regime rather than just the whats.

Bandi offers a selection of short stories that leave the reader wondering. The stories are fiction but fit so well with the actual conditions of the country. It is a bit like a dystopian episode of the Twilight Zone. You know it’s fiction but it feels so real. The feeling of being trapped in a nightmare is very real. From the sins of the father being carried to the next generation to the fear that something a child might do will damage your family’s position. Interestingly, there is very little about the outside enemy in this collection. There is no mention of the United States’ determination to end the worker’s paradise and there is only passing mention of the South’s propaganda being blasted over the border to the north. Everything happens inside North Korea as it works to make itself an island separate from the rest of the world.

Inside people spend their lives trying to stay within the ever shrinking lines. Loyalty is the most important thing. One man’s son cracks to his father, “You took a cup of sorrow and cried a pitcher of tears” concerning the death of Kim Il-Sung. Another character talks of a magical garden where cries of pain and suffering are distorted into laughter. School children watch the trial and execution of a man tied to a peach tree. The rope that was used to tie the man had more of an impact than the execution. The rope bound a person into helplessness. Perhaps there are things worse than death.

One cannot but feel the entrapment and hopelessness of many of the people. Some follow not to get noticed. Some follow out of fear. Some dare hope to escape. The majority know they are stuck and try to ignore their surroundings and live in an illusion of a positive attitude. The stories are fiction, but the feelings and emotions in them seem very real. One wonders if the stories are fiction in only that names and places have been changed. Haunting fiction because the reader knows it can very well be true.

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