The story goes something like this: nearly thirty years ago, a talented North Korean propagandist secretly began writing fiction critical of the North Korean regime. When a catastrophic famine beset North Korea in the mid-nineties, the propagandist’s misgivings about his country’s leadership deepened. Over the next several years, he chronicled the deprivation and disillusionment of his countrymen in a series of stories that he shared with no one. Roughly two decades later, a close relative defected to South Korea, and the writer saw an opportunity to get his work across the border. In 2014, a book of his stories was published in South Korea under the pen name Bandi, which means “firefly.” It is believed to be the first work of dissident fiction by a living North Korean writer ever smuggled out of that country.
Earlier this year, an English translation was published by Grove Atlantic, with the title “The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea.” In an afterword, the writer Kim Seong-dong chronicles the journey of Bandi’s seven-hundred-and-fifty-page manuscript. According to Kim, Bandi is a member of the official North Korean writer’s league, and wrote the stories between 1989 and 1995. Bandi’s defector relative alerted the South Korean human-rights activist Do Hee Yun to the existence of the secret manuscript, and it was Do who took up the task of getting the work out of North Korea. He enlisted a friend based in China, who had relatives in the town where Bandi lived. The manuscript travelled hidden inside a copy of “The Selected Works of Kim Il-sung.”
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