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.