In North Korea, A Man Toils for a Permit to Visit His Dying Mother: An Excerpt from "The Accusation"

14 May 2017
Accusation Bandi Excerpt_Vantage_The Caravan Magazine_14 May 2017
Accusation Bandi Excerpt_Vantage_The Caravan Magazine_14 May 2017

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea, is a collection of seven stories, which depict the lives of men and women who are living in a police state. The book has been authored by a man from North Korea, under the pseudonym Bandi—which means “firefly” in Korean.In a note that appears at the end of the book, Do Hee-Yun—a human-rights activist who played a pivotal role in getting the book published—states that Bandi was born in 1950. He notes that Bandi followed his parents to China to take refuge from the Korean War, and spent his youth there, before returning to North Korea. There, he became affiliated with the Chosun Writers’ League Central Committee—North Korea’s state-authorised, tightly-controlled network of writers.

Do Hee-Yun notes that the focus of Bandi’s writing changed when he witnessed the deaths of many people close to him during the Arduous March—a term that was coined by the leadership of North Korea to describe the famine that decimated the country for four years from 1994. This period, and the exodus of several North Koreans for survival, strengthened in Bandi the resolve “to share with the outside world a true likeliness of North Korean society as he himself saw it.” The result was a 743-page manuscript that Do Hee-Yun gained access to in 2013. The book, which was first published in South Korea in 2014, has since been translated in over 18 languages and published in 20 countries. In one of the poems that was a part of the manuscript, the author explained his alias, noting, that Bandi was “fated to shine only in a world of darkness.”

The following excerpt from the book has been extracted from a story titled, “So Near, Yet So Far.” The story chronicles the struggles of a young man, Myeong-chol, who has failed in his repeated attempts to visit his dying mother, as the state refused to grant him the requisite permit to travel to the village in which she resides. The protagonist compares himself to a dragonfly stuck in a spider web. The story captures the frustration and helplessness of a man who is caught between the insatiable desire to be by his mother’s side, and the awareness of the consequences he would suffer for defying the regime.

“Ai!” A single cry escaped from Jeongsuk as, startled by the sound of the door swinging open, she sprang to her feet. Her son’s diaper, which she’d just removed, dropped from her limp fingers and hit the floor with a wet smack. There in the doorway, filling the frame, was the husband she hadn’t seen in so long. But her cry was not one of delight. She was astonished, and appalled, at how drastically altered he was.

Sunken cheeks, soiled clothes, the backpack that had been worn to rags hanging limp from one shoulder . . . He’d always been skinny and slightly stooped, but he looked to have aged twenty years in as many days. Jeongsuk would have mistaken him for someone middle-aged if she hadn’t known better. Could a person be so radically transformed in such a short space of time? What had become of the man who had made only brief visits to the family home in the last couple of years?

Keywords: North Korea Bandi Do Hee-Yun Dissent