How will you react, when you will come to know that, your life’s fate has been written down long before your birth? And what you eat and drink, what you speak, and where you go, everything would be closely monitored. Scary, isn’t it?
The Accusations written by Bandi is a collection of seven such stories, giving us the chilling account of the lives of the people living in North Korea. The fact that these were smuggled secretly in 2013, makes it a document of significant importance in North Korean Literature.
About the author:
As, these were secretly smuggled and published, the identity of the author was kept secret as well. The author wrote under the pseudonym Bandi, which means “firefly” in Korean. And just like his name, his stories also enlightened the world. He began writing stories secretly in 1989. These stories were about regular people living a life of despair and misery under Kim II- sung’s totalitarian regime. A 750- page manuscript was originally smuggled out, from which these 7 stories were published initially in South Korea. Then, Deborah Smith, the famous Man Booker Award Winning (2016) translator of The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated it into English. The stories dated in this book lie between the years 1989- 1995. The stories have no proof of being fictional or factual as just like the writer’s indentity, this could also be not verified. Bandi was a silent spectator in writing down these stories, which fortunately at the end got a better fate. He still lives in North Korea.
This book is of interest for:
- Historical Fiction lovers
- People seeking inspiration
- People who have lost the desire to live
- Anybody, who wants a glimpse of North Korean literature
Premise of the book:
All the seven stories are binded together by a common theme of fear. Fear of being watched, fear of their lives, fear of their future. And the only option left with the people is to silently obey whatever they are told to. Now, discussing these stories in more detail:-
Record of a Defection:
A man comes to know that his wife is taking birth control pills to avoid getting pregnant. Discovering her secret, he gets blinded by anger and prejudices. But, behind this step of his wife lies a deep reason and unconditional love for her husband.
This makes us realize, the extent to which our loved ones could go, in order to bring some measujre of relief in our lives
“In this country, a mother has only one wish when she brings children into the world: that their passage through life will be blessed. But if she knew for a fact that what lay in wait was an endless path of thorns? She’d need the cruelty of a hardened criminal to condemn a child to that.”
City Of Specters:
Myeon-shik, a two year old boy, cries everytime he sees the portrait of Karl Marx and Kim II- sung. Which are put into display outside for an event. As a result of which, his mother draws curtains in their apartment, preventing him from seeing those portraits which lands them in a difficult problem at the end. As, this small gesture of her, puts them under charges of spying.
“Those who have boldness- who are undaunted, even , in their endurance- know how to hold themselves in check when they have to. But there comes a point when that endurance reaches its limit, and when it does, the full force of their character will manifest with double intensity.”
So near, Yet So Far:
This is a story of a desperate son, who wants to visit his mother, who is on her deathbed. Even though his home village is near his house, he is not permitted to visit her as Class One event is scheduled to be held there. The story also shows how people end up losing their dignity and rational thinking in desparate circumstances.
“How could his own village, in his own country, his own land, be so remote, so utterly unreachable?”
Life Of a Swift Steed:
A man named, Yong-Su plants an elm tree and invests all his life’s hopes and dreams of a new, democratic North Korea into that tree calling it a “magic” elm. It’s a story of regrets and unfulfilled dreams that haunt you till your death.
“What suffering could compare with the disappointment and regret that Yong-su must have felt when he came to realize that the simple faith with which he’d once shouted “It’s-a-promise” was founded on an illusion?”
An old woman, desperate for the news of her husband and granddaughter , accidentally gets caught by a swarm of journalist where she is forced to speak words of praise for Kim-II Sung. She was forced to plaster a smile on her face which contradicted her actual situation.
” ‘I respectfully pray for the long life of our Great Leader, Father of Us all’
No matter who you were, if you lived in this land, beneath the skies, you would have memorized these words time and time again ever since you learned to speak.”
This story dates back to 1995, when three months have passed since the death of Kim II- sung and the city is shown mourning for this. In this situation as well, people assume the fact that the number of times they lay flowers at the altar is also being secretly tallied. This depiction makes it funny and tragic at a same time. In between these events, Comrade Inspector’s son gets into problem by showing disrespectful behaviour in time of moruning. He compares living in North korea to a lifetime of drama school. As everybody is forced to live a life of lie and display fake emotions.
“Isn’t it frightening, this society which teaches us all to be great actors, able to turn on the waterworks at the drop of a hat?”
The Red Mushroom:
A man takes the help of a journalist to clear his uncle’s name who is falsely accused. Even if he sacrified his entire life in the service of his country this situation makes him helpless. This story showed how corruption was prevalent in North Korea and how futile it was to fight the political norms laid there. This was the longest story, but not as impactful as the other stories.
“In all of creation, the rule is more toxic something is, the more pretty and friendly it is made to look.”
So, even though the characters in the stories were trapped in different situations, they all cried a single note- the agony and pain to live under a dictatorship. The people were a part of that country, the innocent victimes of the day to day prejudices, and the circumstances were the only villains in their lives. The tension created in the stories will stay with you for a longer time which makes it a classic in its own way.
The book ends with a closing poem written by Bandi himself. The lines of poem clearly resonate with the situations in North Korea.
” Living as a machine that speaks, Living as a human under a yoke.”