March 7, 2016
Short story collection smuggled out of North Korea to be published in English
by Soojung Anna Kim
A collection of short stories titled The Accusation by pseudonymous North Korean writer 반디 Bandi (“firefly”) is set for publication in English and several other languages beginning in Spring 2017. Alison Flood at The Guardian reports that rights to the book have been secured by Grove Press in the United States and Serpent’s Tail in the United Kingdom.
Written over the course of two decades, the collection is made up of seven stories set in the 1990s around the time of Kim Il-Sung’s death, right before the beginning of the Arduous March. The collection was published in South Korea in May 2014 by the publishing house Chogabje.
The collection’s literary agent, Barbara Zitwer, who has previously worked with Kyung-Sook Shin on Please Look After Mother and Han Kang on The Vegetarian, described the The Accusation‘s international attention as “immediate and stunning.” During the bidding process, publishers drew comparisons to Solzhenitsyn, Gogol, Chekhov, and Bulgakov.
Zitwer told The Guardian that the book’s publication in the West proves:
“…the indomitable spirit of freedom of thought and imagination… as much and as hard as the brutal leader of North Korea tries to robotize the population, he cannot. Free thought, free ideas, artistic efforts and most of all a great sense of free imagination cannot be destroyed or eliminated.”
The vast majority of memoir and autobiographical writing that has made it out of North Korea has been written by defectors. The South Korean news network SBS reports that this is the first instance of such a book being published by a writer still living under the North Korean regime. According to Rob Lauler at the DailyNK, the collection was smuggled out of the country by a female relative of the author, with pages of the manuscript hidden amongst the copies of Kim Il-Sung’s writings.
Do Hee-youn, an activist with the Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, told Brian Padden of VOA News that only himself and two other South Koreans know the identity of the writer. According to Do, Bandi is a member of the Central Committee of the Chosun Writer’s Alliance, North Korea’s official literary organization, and has written for many officially sanctioned magazines. Do claims that Bandi became increasingly disillusioned by his role in propagating the façade of the regime in the face of rampant starvation and paranoia: “This writer wants his work to be known to the world, even if he is put to death.”
Similarly, Elizabeth Shim at United Press International (UPI), an activist from a U.S.-based North Korea defector and human rights group, claims that Bandi wrote the book in an attempt to bring charges against the regime. The Central Committee of the Chosun Writer’s Alliance hopes that publication of the book in other languages will encourage people around the world to take action against the human rights violations happening in North Korea.
According to United Press International, a committee has been formed in New York to nominate Bandi for the Nobel Prize in literature.
Soojung Anna Kim is an intern at Melville House.