Book Review: The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi

We have this adorable little independent book store in town that isn’t far from our old house that every Christmas my mother-in-law awesomely gives us gift cards for. Dotters is a well-curated little shop that does a fantastic job of highlighting books that I either forgot I wanted to read or was completely unaware of altogether.

The Accusation would fall in the latter category, but when I came across it on the shelves (well, the virtual shelves, because they haven’t been open to the public since this whole mess the world is in started), I knew I needed it.

I’ll admit that I don’t know nearly as much about North Korea as I probably should, but from what I do know, it is an almost picture perfect version of every dystopian government ever put into fiction. This cult-like reverence for their leaders, or at least forced reverence, their complete closed off nature, the dichotomy of the workers and the bourgeois, all of it is just so absolutely foreign from anything in the real world that it’s often hard to realize that it does actually exist.

The Accusation is a series of fictional short stories written by an anonymous author who is still living in North Korea. The author managed to sneak his works to South Korea in a tale that is briefly recounted at the end of this book and is, to be completely honest, the best part of the whole book. Bandi’s a writer for the government of North Korea, meaning he spends his time writing official propaganda for the country. He realized how terrible the country was and began writing dissenting stories in his free time, something which was incredibly dangerous for him to do, and finally decided he needed his stories to be seen.

The stories themselves are plodding, more of an atmospheric view of what it’s like to live in North Korea than it is any form of true narrative tale. There are certainly some exciting bits throughout the book, like the guy who wanted to be at his mother’s funeral, but couldn’t get a travel pass, so he ends up teaming up with a guy who had a travel pass that was for two people, but his second suddenly couldn’t go. This gets far more exciting when they have to part ways halfway through the trip and suddenly the main character is on the train without a travel pass, trying to get through the country to get to the funeral.

It’s these little takes on how much more effort goes into things that feel naturally simple for us which give a solid view into life in North Korea. A simple train ride to a funeral isn’t necessarily that exciting, and even him having to hide under the seats to avoid needing to have his lack of ticket noticed isn’t much more than a briefly tense moment, but it’s in the fact that this character needs to hide under the seat where we see the real brilliance of this collection. He’s simply riding on a train to go to a funeral, and fears being locked up for years because he doesn’t have the right permission to travel.

I’d suggest giving this book a read just for the purpose of gaining a larger understanding of the fully dystopian world the North Koreans live in. So much of this felt like pure fiction instead of fictional takes on real life activities, and because of that, I kept expecting far more exciting things to happen. But these are simply fictional versions of real life stories of a people who live in a regime which makes their world seem incredibly far fetched from our own.

And that makes this collection an amazing read.


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