- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press (March 7, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802126200
- ISBN-13: 978-0802126207
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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Winner of a PEN Translates Award
“[A] remarkable collection . . . [the stories’] power is in the plain-spoken, almost artless way they convey daily life under an ever-watchful, whimsically cruel regime . . . This courageous book offers an important reminder that not all dystopias are invented.”―Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Searing fiction by an anonymous dissident . . . A fierce indictment of life in the totalitarian North.”―New York Times
“[The Accusation] might be the most dangerous book on the planet right now . . . An historic milestone . . . A powerful denunciation . . . Its very existence is still a hopeful symbol that change is inevitable, if not imminent.”―Vice
“They say fact is stranger than fiction. One book smuggled out of North Korea encapsulates both . . . A reflection of life under North Korean rule . . . This is the first known writer of a book, critical of North Korea, who is still inside the country.”―Paula Hancocks, CNN
“The Accusation shines a light on the dark half of the Korean peninsula with stories that are as readable as they are important . . . If these stories are an exorcism for the author, they are a revelation for us; The Accusation is fiction, but it is fiction that screams truth. Like its great literary predecessor One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Accusation is a powerful work that seems destined to serve as the go-to example, and indictment, of life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”―National Post
“Deborah Smith . . . vividly brings to English the taut, searing stories . . . Each turn of the page, each moment of anger and sadness a reader feels for Bandi’s characters comes with a deeper ache. The reader knows, horribly, that all of these things are still happening.”―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Revelatory . . . Bandi, whoever he may be, has made history. He’s illuminated the daily life of North Koreans, presenting them as human beings living in―and in spite of―extraordinary circumstances. The Accusation, which is a triumph simply for existing, places Bandi in the canon of dissenting literature. Now we can only hope to read more of his work.”―Paste
“The seven stories . . . aptly convey the hardships and constant trauma that people face in a country cut off from the rest of the world . . . Written with deep emotion and elegance.”―Business Standard
“All we can do is to read these ‘accusations.’ Only that will save the writer who wrote and sent them out into the world at the risk of his own life.”―Kyung-Sook Shin, New York Times bestselling author of Please Look After Mom
“The Accusation is a stark and often despair-inducing collection, but one we should read with great urgency at this moment, both as a document of what is and what could be and as a way to continue gaining better understanding of the complexities of North Korean society, which remains elusive to the West . . . The Accusation represents a milestone for those living outside the DPRK, but also in a sense for those living within its borders . . . Bandi refuses simplicity for his characters. Instead he gifts them forceful and vivid voices.”―Words Without Borders
“A startling collection of short stories revealing the brutal reality of life inside the isolated regime . . . A remarkable feat of dissident literature . . . The seven short stories and one poem presented in The Accusation are based on harrowing true events, which only heightens their import and impact . . . A clarion call for justice, The Accusation is an unforgettable testament to indomitable human spirit, written with an unbending commitment to the truth, at times difficult to bear, but also spiked with a sharp satirical spear . . . Immeasurably vital.”―New Daily
“This is an extraordinary tale of ordinary people in North Korea . . . A highly readable, nuanced, credible picture of a country where ordinary people go about their lives treading around the regime, and sometimes bumping into it.”―BBC World Service
“A collection of courageous and confounding short stories . . . expertly translated by Deborah Smith . . . Shows similarities of both quality and content to stories by authors as various as Gorky, Solzhenitsyn and Chen Ruoxi, or even Chinese contemporaries such as Yan Lianke . . . Vivid and uncompromising storytelling.”―New Statesman (UK)
“These short works offer powerful insights into a world behind walls . . . In its scope and courage, The Accusation is an act of great love.”―Guardian
“Unflinching tales from North Korea . . . Enlightening . . . A compelling collection.”―Observer (UK)
“The Accusation takes us across a deep cultural and political border . . . The stories, written between 1989 and 1995, constitute a passionate J’accuse . . . Shines a necessary light on what remains one of the darkest places on Earth.”―Hamilton Spectator
“A rare piece of fiction from one of the world’s most repressive regimes . . . A dramatic page-turner.”―Quartz
“For readers interested in a candid look at life in North Korea, The Accusation . . . will immerse you via the stories of common folk.”―Millions
“The Accusation continues to make international history as the first literary work smuggled out of repressive North Korea . . . Illuminating stories that reveal desperate lives enduring terrifying day-to-day challenges . . . British translator Smith . . . expertly delivers Bandi’s subversive prose with nuanced grace . . . As Bandi’s characters both fear and sling accusations, the title takes on piercing gravitas for readers.”―Booklist (starred review)
“With these uncompromising stories, the pseudonymous Bandi gives a rare glimpse of life in the “truly fathomless darkness” of North Korea . . . An endnote about how Bandi’s collection was smuggled out of the country reveals just how miraculous it is that it exists at all.”―Publishers Weekly
“Fugitive fiction―literally―from inside North Korea, devastatingly critical of the Kim dynasty and its workers’ paradise . . . There is a streak of satire in these stories, but mostly they are grimly realistic . . . Certainly the author has access to the broad sweep of North Korean society, from industrial workers and farmers to midlevel political functionaries . . . An important document of witness.”―Kirkus Reviews
“No fiction beyond a trickle of agitprop has passed beyond North Korea’s borders, and of course dissident voices are suppressed altogether. When it was smuggled out, this story collection became an international publishing sensation.”―Library Journal
“Well-crafted stories . . . The Accusation is a haunting, disturbing collection . . . worthwhile.”―Complete Review
“[A] slim, powerful volume.”―Week
“Bandi’s writing style is markedly different from that of Western fiction . . . The rather bare-bones, bracing style fits the stories told. Their content has so much implicit drama and heartache, there’s no need to elaborate . . . The Accusation is a quick read . . . Worthy of attention.”―Crime Fiction Lover
“The stories are understated but the dissent is scorching. The only way to adequately honour writing that puts the author’s life in danger is to read it.”―Globe and Mail
Dissident tales from pseudonymous author Bandi, still living in the country . . . very rare fiction to emerge from the secretive dictatorship . . . on its way to becoming an international literary sensation.”Alison Flood, Guardian
“[A] remarkable collection of stories . . . Revealing the terrible truth of living in a country where any any freedoms are curtailed, where famine and brutality are rife, but where human belief and hope can survive any odds, this is a defining read for 2017.”―Emerald Street (UK)
“The Accusation courageously speaks for millions of people who collectively long for a life of peace.”―Culture Trip
Plunges us into the daily life of families in North Korea. These stories are the cry of a man suffocated by totalitarianism. These are also the cry of an entire people who have been broken under the yoke of North Korean communism . . . The author makes use of storytelling, poetry, humor, and even the burlesque to aid his condemnation of these unbearable injustices. The writing is simple, humble, which gives it its beauty. The seven novellas shine with humanity and tenderness.”Aleteia
This collection of novellas that the author managed to extract from his country is of incredible value . . . The classic construction reminds us of Gogol and Chekhov, and for their taste for absurdist satire, Ionesco and Bulgakov.”Books Magazine
Describes in very impressionistic, subtle, almost veiled tones, if I may, the daily life of a dictatorship . . . The book gives a human face, gives stories and images, to the sufferings of North Koreans . . . I was almost groggy by the time I finished reading, reminding myself of just how lucky I am to live in a democracy . . . I thought of Orwell and Kafka but realized that the country described here really exists and that there are people who are living there, perhaps not even knowing that a different kind of life is possible.”L’express
Bandi, a pseudonym that means firefly”, has achieved the unthinkable offering a testimony on the dictatorial regime of North Korea while remaining in situ . . . In the same way as the works of Solzhenitsyn in their time, Bandi’s writing reminds us of the perennial necessity of battling censorship, whatever the cost.”L’amour des livres
This author is completely unknown and would like to stay that way. He continues to live in a country that is held fast by an iron fist, putting his life at risk by writing. He describes, not without humor, the ordinary life of this dictatorship, the extreme misery there, and the surveillance networks that have been put in place by the regime, which make everyone into a potential spy or informant.”Mag Dimanche
Even if one did not know anything about the writer or the way the manuscript was smuggled out of the country, it would not diminish the fact that the force of this collection of novellas evokes the classics of world literature about totalitarianism.”L’ours
A message in a bottle that is so precious that we should all reach out to grab it and better understand the tragedy of the last Marxist regime in the world.”Le Revenu
Stories of simple people that are humiliated and beaten down for absurd reasons, watched over by grotesque henchmen and toadying neighbors, arrested and punished by a dictatorship that has held the country under its heel for six decades. A book to burst the silence.”La Vie
This rare collection offers seven moving novellas, snapshots of a country where nothing normal ever leaks out . . . A far cry from the grandiloquent, ridiculous images that are thrown out by the Kim Jong-Un regime, The Accusation offers the opportunity to discover a moving portrait of a secret country, a forgotten land where humanity only asks to try to triumph.”Lire
No one could imagine that it could be at all comical to live in a dictatorship, but in describing the limitless absurdity of the system, Bandi sometimes makes the reader give out a nervous laugh . . . A fragile hint of light in a country that confuses democracy with obscurantism.”L’Alsace
Each of these stories shows a different aspect of the remorseless dictatorship . . . With a fierce sense of irony and a deeply dark humor, Bandi denounces totalitarianism, the divisions in North Korean society, and the absurdity and corruption of the one party system.”La Grande Parade
Stories written with a great humanity, the work of a true writer.”Lecturama.fr
The appearance of this collection of seven novellas is a true publishing event.”Livres Hebdo
About the Author
Bandi, a name derived from the Korean for “firefly,” is a pseudonym for a writer who is still living in his homeland of North Korea. The Accusation is his only published book to date.
Deborah Smith is the Man Booker International Prize–winning translator of The Vegetarian by Han Kang and other books.
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Top Customer Reviews
Each of the stories focuses on the lives of ordinary citizens who try to survive in a regime that seems to be decaying from within. While rarely explicitly critical of the idea of socialism, the stories providing a searing indictment of bureaucratic incompetence that leaves people on the precipice of starvation or condemned to a life of hardship because a piece of paper marks their record. In one story, “So Near, Yet So Far,” the protagonist attempts to visit his mother who is dying of heart disease, only to see his application for a railway pass denied on three separate occasions over the course of many months. Growing desperate after his most recent denial, he stows away on a train and manages to disembark immediately outside his hometown. However, he is stopped by guards and, because he lacks the necessary pass, is condemned to penal labor for three weeks. By the time he arrives home, a telegram arrives notifying him of his mother’s death.
For most of these characters, they served the regime loyally and worked hard, but see their efforts come to naught, which spurs a sudden realization of the horrors they have tolerated. Another story, “Life of a Swift Steed,” describes a teamster who served admirably in the Korean War, and in peacetime he was regularly commended with medals for his employment performance. In his youth, he planted an elm tree, symbolic of his optimism for his new country and the prospect of a better life. As the decades pass and the protagonist grows old before his time, he realizes he was beguiled by the empty promises of the regime and that his medals are nothing but valueless pieces of iron, and dies of a heart attack as he chops down the elm tree so cherished by him.
In virtually every story, one’s family plays a vital role in their fate. Many characters are tarred with a permanent black mark that bars their advancement because a family member defected or was found to be treasonous. Even those too young to understand the political consequences of their behavior place their family in peril. “City of Specters” has a two-year old petrified by giant posters of Karl Marx and Kim il-Sung that hang outside his apartment window, mistaking them for monsters. His mother tries to sooth him by closing the curtains, but this interferes with the uniformity expected of Pyongyang for an upcoming parade, and results in the family being banished to the countryside. With the exception of a cameo in one story, Kim il-Sung never appears in person, but his specter haunts these characters, demanding loyalty to his regime above their own lives. To do otherwise guarantees their forfeiture.
Only one story in the collection can be regarding as having something resembling a hopeful ending. In the first story of the collection, the protagonist’s wife refuses the romantic advances of the local party commissar and they are forced to flee by boat, leaving behind a letter that forms the story and leaving ambiguous whether they survive. For each of the other tales, life offers nothing but death, heartache, or physical suffering. The characters are provided only minimal personality development, in part because their stories are meant to represent the pain and arbitrariness of fate for each citizen in the country.
When I first read about the publication of The Accusation, I was somewhat skeptical of the stories’ veracity. The State Department admitted they provided funding to advance its publication, and the North Korean exile community can sometimes float ridiculous material in an attempt to chip away at the regime’s credibility. After completing this book, however, I believe the stories are genuine. They seem to come from a place of deep bitterness, even in translation. In the few biographical details provided in the afterward about the author, it is stated he is a member of the country’s writers league. He wrote these stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s, just as the country was beginning to undergo a famine that would kill hundreds of thousands of people. Growing disenchanted with the regime, he made his dissent in silence and when a family member defected, he was able to eventually smuggle these stories to her through a trusted intermediary. Bandi means firefly in Korean, and a poem at the front notes he sees himself as a solitary light piercing a veil of immense darkness. Hopefully this collection is the first hint that a new dawn in North Korea will soon arrive.
I saw a YouTube video interviewing N Korean defectors...I was surprised they said life was better in N Korea specifically because everyone in the village knew each other. In American cities, S Korean cities, European cities, strangers don't connect in a meaningful way - I for one don't know any of the neighbors in my apartments.
But our freedom is not something to throw away. We could not relocate to N Korea and find it better - not in any way shape or form. And from this book, yes, they know people in their village but the authors describe a life walking on tenterhooks - they never knew when a communist authority was watching them. Punishments for very small things range from beatings, banishment to the country, work camps and execution.
An example of a "small thing" was leaving the curtains closed in the city on the beloved leader's birthday. The impression of not pretending awe of the day was highly unacceptable. The mother of the family left the curtains closed because her child was sick and adversely affected by the light. A neighbor warned her about it, and then reported her when the curtains remained closed. The mother was a professional who had enjoyed respect and a relatively high paid job, yet the whole family got banished to the country for leaving the curtains closed.
In these punishments, whole families are scarred with the dissenter stain, even for generations. In my opinion, those N Korean defectors who liked it better there have not yet gained an appreciation of freedom. Freedom of religion, information, basic human rights, are things every democratic nation has worked hard at building over several hundred years. It's easy for anyone with a large enough army to take over a country but there is hard work in the cooperation required of democracy. We with those freedoms need to appreciate our fore-fathers' hard work and sacrifice rather than just take it for granted.