Image: Jeremy Hunter, "Apple Orchard," Pyongyang, August 2011, Digital photograph, 40 inches x 30 inches ©Jeremy Hunter / Telefoto
Guest Editor Shirley Lee,
We continue our tenth anniversary celebration with writing from North Korea. In compiling our September 2003 issue, we discovered North Korean writers can publish only propaganda, and are restricted to official outlets. As this opaque nation becomes more visible, and threatening, on the international stage, we turn for insight to the only writers free to tell the truth: defectors. From the safety of exile, Gwak Moon-an, Jang Jin-sung, Ji Hyun-ah, Kim Sung-min, Kim Yeon-seul, Lee Ji Myung, and Park Gui-ok document famine, corruption, and the soul-crushing pressure on writers to sacrifice art and individuality in the interest of promoting the state. We thank our guest editor, Shirley Lee, who provides an illuminating introduction. Our special section showcases writing in Swahili by Abdilatif Abdalla, Mwenda Mbatiah, and Ken Walibora.
The mere use of everyday language is a subversive act in the North Korean literary context.
I Want to Call Her Mother Again
After that day, I had no mother.
The Poet Who Asked for Forgiveness
Because his poetry did not exalt Party ideology, his life could only end in tragedy.
Nothing to offer but themselves / In Pyongyang’s marketplace
The Arduous March
With rations cut off, people began to starve.
A Rice Story
Food bartered for your sister’s chastity.
A Blackened Land
The earth is dark, the sky is dark, and the people’s hearts are dark.
After the Gunshot
You can’t drink when you have the money on you.
Reviewed by Christopher Tauchen
Pavlov skillfully navigates the razor-thin gap between dark comedy and tragedy, making the novel more humane and serious than many satires.