short story

READ THE WORLD – North Korea: The Accusation: Forbidden Stories From Inside North Korea by Bandi

A collection of short stories showing life under Kim Il-sung’s and Kim Jong-il’s totalitarian regimes. All the stories are written and set in the early 1990’s and had to be smuggled out of North Korea.

The Accusation is a truly remarkable book. While there has been novels, fiction and non-fiction, from North Korean writers, they’ve been written outside of the country once the author has defected, there’s never been work criticising the regime from inside the country. The story of how the manuscript of this book was smuggled out of the country is as fascinating as the stories themselves.

These short stories were truly eye-opening. They’re about ordinary workers, families, and officials and everything they have to do to stay in line – both the unconscious acts and the conscious ones. The stories show the difficulties of harsh food rations, no fuel to keep homes and workplaces warm and how you must never speak your mind or show you are unsatisfied.

The stories are all well-written in a simple style making them accessible but it’s really the content of the stories that is the most important thing. They each criticise the regime in North Korea in some way, shining a light on peoples suffering and how they either attempt to fight against it or become sadly accustomed to it.

Naturally, there were some stories I preferred to others. One of my favourites was “On Stage” about a Party official’s son who shows him how life in the country is a constant performance, and how you must never show anyone how you feel. If the occasion calls for you to be sad, you must cry. If it is a joyous occasion, you must laugh and smile even if your heart is breaking. I felt this story (along with my other favourite “City of Spectres”) really showed how no one is safe, and how fear of death and banishment keeps people in line.

The Accusation is a great and important insight into life in North Korea. It’s a quick read, each story is around 30-40 pages, and a captivating one. 4/5.

REVIEW: Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

flush virginia wolfFlush is the semi-fictionalised biography of a spaniel called Flush who belonged to the poet Emily Barrett Browning. Through Flush’s eyes you see his life go from living in the English countryside, to the busy streets of London and finally to Italy.

Flush is an interesting story. It’s sometimes a bit hard to get into and that’s due to the fact it’s a biography so you sometimes have Virginia Woolf explaining something that has yet to happen or go into the history of something. That being said, Woolf’s writing can be really descriptive and beautiful – especially the final act in Italy, the cities of Pisa and Florence are described so vividly you really feel like you’re there.

Then there’s the fact it’s largely from the point of view of a dog. Seeing life from a dog’s perspective is interesting as you don’t really know what is going on a lot of the time, you don’t necessarily know what the people are doing or feeling and what’s their relationships with each other are. Flush loves his owner Emily and doesn’t like it when other people seem to upset her or get close to her, which was a nice touch as anyone who has had a dog knows that they can be very perceptive and protective.

I hadn’t read anything by Virginia Woolf before and I think this was a good way to ease myself into her writing. It’s a short book and has beautiful writing but it’s still sometimes hard to get into and to connect with Flush and the people in his life. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

the colour out of spaceA collection of short horror stories. The Colour Out of Space is about the strange events after a meteorite lands in a farmyard, The Outsider is about someone who is locked away and The Hound is about a grave robber who is hunted by a creature.

H.P. Lovecraft is one of those names I just recognise but I’d never read any of his stuff or even really knew what sort of genre he wrote. This little book was the perfect introduction to his writing. It was less than 80 pages long but in that he wrote three creepy stories.

As it’s so short I won’t go into any more detail to the plots of the stories bar what I said above and really, these stories are great because you don’t know what to expect or what is really going on.

All three stories are in the first person and you never really know whose eyes you’re seeing the story from – this is especially true of The Outsider, I really wasn’t sure what was happening in that story till the last few paragraphs.

These stories are creepy and haunting and the tone of them are great because you have a sense of foreboding and that feeling as if you’re being watched. All three of them are mostly set at night and the way harmless things like trees and fields are described makes you feel uneasy. There’s also a bit of blood and gore which is not pleasant but really adds to the tension.

At less than 80 pages if you want to try some H.P. Lovecraft The Colour Out of Space is a great place to start. It’s creepy and strange and you speed right through it. 4/5.