No one knows who Bandi—the pen name belonging to author of “The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea”—really is. However, their decision to write honestly and crushingly about life in the hermit kingdom is delighting both human rights advocates and literature lovers, while also raising some uncomfortable questions about the validity of literature written by current or former citizens of the nation.
“The Accusation”, a short-story collection, has no protagonists. Yet each of the 7 stories are characterized by a growing sense of despair and disillusionment, as its characters realize just how much their government has manipulated and abused them. The pencil-written manuscript, reportedly smuggled out of North Korea in the early 2010’s, is believed to have been written between 1989 and 1995—a devastating era during which hundreds of thousands of civilians died of famine. First published in South Korea in 2014, the book was published in English earlier this year. It is thought to be the first work of living dissident fiction ever to be smuggled out of North Korea.
The book, published by the firm Grove Atlantic, proves a unique challenge to promote; not only is its author unavailable for editorial feedback or publicity, there is no definitive proof that Bandi is still alive or even existed in the first place. Accounts of life inside Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship are often found to be a least partially false, and experts are particularly skeptical in light of revelations that defector Shing Dong-hyuk, the subject of the biographical “Escape from Camp 14”, made up much of his testimony of life in a North Korean prison camp.
Image courtesy of CNN
Still, many are standing by the book despite the murkiness of its origins. “There’s no way to know for sure,” said Grove Atlantic editor Peter Blackstock. “I took a leap of faith, as have many other people involved in this project.”
Featured image courtesy of The New York Times.