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Literature / The Accusation

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That old man of Europe with his bristling beard
Claimed that capitalism is a pitch-black realm
While communism is a world of light.

I, Bandi, of this so-called world of light,
Fated to shine only in a world of darkness,
Denounce in front of the whole world
That light which is truly fathomless darkness
Black as a moonless night at the year’s end

Bandi

The Accusation is a short story anthology written by Bandi, allegedlynote  a North Korean writer still living in the DPRK. First written in The '90s, the manuscript was finally smuggled out and published in South Korea in 2014, with an English translation published in 2017.

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Set during the reign of Kim Il-Sung, The Accusation tells the stories of North Koreans struggling to survive under the oppressive Communist regime, where shortages of basic goods like food and transportation are facts of daily life, and even the slightest deviation from orthodoxy can land one in prison or worse.

The collection consists of:

  • "Record of a Defection": Engineer Il-cheol finds out his wife Myung-ok has been taking birth control, sparking a series of revelations that drive him to leave the country.
  • "City of Specters": Gyeong-hee tries to hide her infant son's phobia of the Karl Marx portraits that decorate Pyongyang.
  • "Life of a Swift Steed": Factory foreman Yeong-il tries to help an old family friend, Yong-su, when the latter scuffles with the local police chief over the elm tree in his backyard.
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  • "So Near, Yet So Far": Despite lacking the proper travel paperwork, Myeong-chol attempts to visit his dying mother.
  • "Pandemonium": Mr. and Mrs. Oh visit their pregnant daughter only to run into Kim Il-Sung himself.
  • "On Stage": In the wake of Kim Il-Sung's death, Yeong-pyo confronts his son's increasingly troublesome behavior.
  • "The Red Mushroom": A small farming community struggles to survive under the rule of the local Party affiliates.

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Tropes that appear in this work:

  • Armor-Piercing Question: Courtesy of Yong-su's wife: "Where are the so-called fruits of this elm, that you've worn your life out on?"
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Inverted in “Record of A Defection”. After seeing the hell her husband and nephew get for their backgrounds, Myung-ok gets an abortion and starts taking birth control to avoid having a child that would be subject to the same fate.
  • Berserk Button: Gyeong-hee's son freaks out at the sight of Karl Marx posters, something Gyeong-hee desperately hopes to keep under wraps.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Citizens are encouraged to spy on and rat out their neighbors, with local party officials frequently checking in over any kind of "deviant" behavior. And plainclothes Secret Police officers are everywhere, even places as innocuous as a train station.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: "Record of a Defection" ends with the writer describing him and his wife’s plans to escape North Korea, despite the risk that they will end up dead or worse. There’s no hint of whether they managed to escape successfully. And this is one of the happier endings.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Almost all the stories involve the main characters realizing and struggling to cope with how much the North Korean government has taken from them and how little they've received in exchange.
  • Canned Orders over Loudspeaker: Located everywhere and blasting propaganda 24/7. Even the Ohs tiny farming village has one loud enough to be heard from their house.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Kyeong-hun lashes out at his father for not realizing the nation's mourning for Kim Il-Sung comes from fear rather than sorrow. The realization ultimately drives the latter to suicide.
  • Crapsack World: 247 pages on why life in North Korea is hell on earth.
  • Crocodile Tears: Yeong-pyo cries these when discussing his son's latest mishap with his superior. Later Kyeong-hun claims the national mourning for Kim Il-Sung's passing is nothing but these.
  • Culture Police: Kyeong-hun runs afoul of them for putting on a seemingly anti-government comedy skit.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Any accident or moment of bad judgement, no matter how small or justified, can be spun as treasonous.
    • “Record of a Defection”: Il-cheol is banned from joining the Party, hindering any hope of advancement in his career and ostracizing him socially, because his father accidentally killed a crate of rice seedlings during the country’s transition to collective farming. Il-cheol's nephew Min-hyuk is likewise bullied and held back in school.
    • "City of Specters": The local party secretary accuses Gyeong-hee of potential espionage based on her window curtain choices. The family is ultimately "banished" because their infant son is frightened by posters of Karl Marx.
    • "So Near, Yet So Far": Myeong-chol goes to a prison camp for three weeks as punishment for traveling without a permit.
    • "On Stage": Kyeong-hun lands in hot water for holding hands with a girl and (allegedly) drinking during the official mourning period for Kim Il-Sung's death. His friend Kim Suk-i's entire family is sent to a labor camp because her father stated that Kim Jong-il has a second wife.
    • "The Red Mushroom": Ko Inshik is demoted and sent to work in a backwater farming town when it's discovered that his presumed dead brother is in fact alive and living in South Korea.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Ko Inshik crosses it during his trial, realizing his years of effort to regain his social status were fruitless.
  • Double Meaning/Double Speak: Very common throughout. Characters often resort to indirect and elliptical language to warn or inform others while still sounding innocuous. Much of the protagonists' angst and paranoia comes from obsessively going over past conversations trying to figure out just what the other person was trying to tell them.
  • Downer Ending: Unsurprisingly, given the setting, this is not a happy book
    • "Record of a Defection": Il-cheol and Myung-ok plan to escape, but whether they succeeded is unknown.
    • "City of Specters" Gyeong-hee and family are sent to live in the countryside as punishment for their son's fear of Karl Marx posters.
    • "Life of a Swift Steed" : Yong-su dies of a heart attack and his beloved elm tree is chopped down to make way for a telephone pole.
    • "So Near, Yet So Far": Myeong-chol spends three weeks in a prison labor camp for traveling without a permit, and his mother dies before he gets out.
    • "On Stage": After possibly trying to shoot his son, Yeong-pyo shoots himself at an altar to Kim Il-Sung.
    • "The Red Mushroom": Ko Ishnik is found guilty of anti-government activity and goes crazy, and the local Party officials take the credit for his hard work in making the local soybean farms successful.
  • Driven to Suicide: Yeong-pyo. Implied with Yong-su, who seemingly drove himself into having a heart attack by trying to cut down his elm tree.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: A common coping mechanism.
  • Dystopia: North Korea, according to the characters and Bandi himself.
  • Excessive Mourning: Government-enforced for the death of Kim Il-Sung. People are expected to visit the local memorials multiple times a day, and constant trips into the mountains for fresh flowers are mandatory despite multiple deaths from landslides, monsoons and snakebites. In "On Stage", Kyeong-hun is accused of disrespecting Il-sung's memory because he held hands with someone of the opposite sex
  • Extreme Doormat: A common source of angst for several characters is their inability to stand up to the government.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Government control of every facet of society results in food shortages, horrible travel and living conditions, and general misery.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: Myung-Ok's reasoning for getting an abortion and taking birth control; in her mind, any child she and Il-cheol have is doomed to a lifetime of misery thanks to Il-Cheol's less-than-exemplary family background.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted in “Record of A Defection”. Myung-ok gets an abortion while visiting her gynecologist to pick up birth control.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Throughout the book, but most prominent in "Pandemonium".
  • Heroic BSoD: The cause for Yong-Su's assault on the police chief. Just before the latter's arrival, Yong-su had been arguing with his wife about chopping down the elm tree for firewood. Said argument triggered the realization that he'd gained nothing from a lifetime of service to the country and socialism but some medals and a tree.
  • Hope Spot: Myeong-chol is within walking distance of his hometown when caught without a permit.
  • How We Got Here:
    • "Record of a Defection" begins with Il-cheol declaring his intention to flee North Korea, and the rest of the letter is his explanation for defecting.
    • "So Near, Yet So Far" begins with Myeong-chol returning home after three weeks in a labor camp and telling his wife what happened.
  • Laughing Mad: Ko Inshik at the end of "The Red Mushroom"
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: Enforced. The government treats the family members of dissenters as criminals themselves, and will frequently punish the entire family for one member's misdeeds even if the others had nothing to do with the crime in question.
  • Make an Example of Them: As a high-schooler Myeong-chol (and other students thought to be displaying "counterrevolutionary tendencies") was forced to watch a firing-squad execution of an anti-government criminal, an incident that scarred him for life.
  • Meaningful Name: The author’s pseudonym, “Bandi”, means “firefly” in Korean.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Il-cheoul suspects Myung-ok is cheating on him, but the truth is far more tragic.
  • Nepotism: Frequently the only way to get ahead in life and career.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Serve as villains throughout the book, they're frequently portrayed as paranoid, narcissistic fanatics.
    • Of particular note is the official who denies Myeong-chol a travel permit in the douchiest manner possible.
  • Offing the Offspring: Yeong-pyo shoots at his son Kyeong-hun as the latter gives a Breaking Speech denouncing the government. Given that he misses and hits a lightbulb, however, it's ambiguous if Yeong-pyo actually wanted to kill his son or just shot wildly in a fit of anger.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Ko Inshik is fired from his comfortable office job in Pyongyang and sent to work at a backwater farming town because his brother defected to South Korea.
  • Reign of Terror: Began in the fifties and still ongoing.
  • Retired Badass: Yeong-il sells Yong-su as one, describing his war hero past to defend his character. It doesn't work.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Villified: Enforced. The government criminalizes any criticism of the country's revolution, or the people who led it.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Yong-su.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: The local Party secretary offers to make Il-Cheol an official Party member if Myung-ok sleeps with him.
  • Secret Police: North Korea's State Security Department (or Bowibu) is a constant background presence. Yeong-pyo, protagonist of "On Stage", is a lifelong member.
  • Stepford Smiler: Discussed in "Pandemonium", when Mrs. Oh realizes North Korea is a whole nation of these.
    But those cries of pain which, if combined, would be enough to cause even hell to overflow, had all disappear somewhere, drowned out by the swell of "happy laughter"!...Laughter produced by one who had had the fingernails of both hands ripped off! Were such things possible in this world? How could the screams and cries of such a mass of people be transformed into "happy laughter" without a cruel sorcery being at work?
  • Take That!: As the title suggests, the book is a giant middle finger to the North Korean government. There's a number of jabs at Karl Marx in particular, given his role as the "founder" of communism.
  • There Are No Therapists: Gyeong-hee's husband forbids her from taking their son to a therapist due to the potential repercussions his condition might have on the family.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: The government has departments and officers looking over every aspect of daily life, with frightening consequences.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The stories are based on real-life incidents, with details changed to protect the writer and people involved.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Kim Il-Sung makes a big show of assisting the Oh family on their trip, transferring their pregnant daughter to the country's best hospital and driving the family home. Mrs. Oh is forced to give a soundbite praising the Dear Leader for his kindness.
  • Voice of the Resistance: "On Stage" mentions how the South Korean side of the DMZ has loudspeakers set up playing constant speeches and songs criticizing the DPRK, in the hopes of cracking the North Korean militias stationed there.
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