Initially published in South Korea in 2014, The Accusation continues to make international history as the first literary work smuggled out of repressive North Korea, now headed for shelves around the world. Bandi—whose pseudonym is derived from firefly, an obvious nod to the insect’s small light amid vast darkness—shockingly remains a prominent North Korean writer. None of his native readers, however, will ever have access to these seven illuminating stories that reveal desperate lives enduring terrifying day-to-day challenges. Written between 1989 and 1995, they share a common, reverberating theme: that survival—already threatened by starvation, betrayal, brutality—can hinge on details as absurdly trivial as a crate of rice seedlings, the timing of closed curtains, the placement of an elm tree, a travel pass. British translator Smith (whose rendering of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won 2016’s Man Booker International Prize) expertly delivers Bandi’s subversive prose with nuanced grace. The afterword further explicates the manuscript’s remarkable journey out, with an additional note from the South Korean activist who enabled the precarious north-south crossing. As Bandi’s characters both fear and sling accusations, the title takes on piercing gravitas for readers: knowingly turning a blind eye to such inhumanity is not an option.
— Terry Hong
Mar. 2017. 256p. Grove, hardcover, $25 (9780802126207).
REVIEW. First published February 15, 2017 (Booklist).