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September 2003

Writing From North Korea

Image: Jeremy Hunter, Pistols," Pyongyang, August 2011, Digital photograph, 40 inches x 30 inches ©Jeremy Hunter / Telefoto

When we first began our search for literature from North Korea, we assumed we would tap into an underground stream of "dissident" work comparable to the rich "samizdat" literature circulating behind the Iron Curtain not so many years ago. But either writers in North Korea believe in their political system so fervently they must pay homage to it whenever they write -- or they are carefully watched to ensure a propagandistic mission for their work. Still, in the hands of translators Ha-yun Jung and Stephen Epstein, these works by Han Ung-Bin, Kim Byung-hun, and Kim Hong-ik give a fascinating glimpse into a foreign culture and frame of mind -- and at times, as in the excerpted passages from Han's Hopes for Good Fortune, a dip in a refreshing stream of lyricism and natural beauty that might yet persist in mountain places far from politics and power.

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