cover image The Accusation

The Accusation

Bandi, trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith. Grove, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2620-7

With these uncompromising stories, the pseudonymous Bandi gives a rare glimpse of life in the “truly fathomless darkness” of North Korea. A Pyongyang housewife is accused of attempting to communicate with spies for closing her drapes in “City of Specters.” In “So Near, Yet So Far,” a man finds his village unreachable when he illegally journeys to see his dying mother. Lacking proper documentation, he is forced into a truck, like a pig “being sent to the slaughterhouse.” A similar arc is traced throughout Bandi’s collection, but the most cutting story is “Pandemonium.” A frustrated Mrs. Oh escapes a provincial train station that has been locked down for 32 hours because Kim Il-Sung is traveling in the area. On the way to a nearby relative’s house, she stumbles upon the “Great Leader” himself, a man whose “pale golden clothes seemed to shed a soft veil of mist.” Just as he is graciously giving her a ride, her granddaughter suffers a broken leg back at the station when she’s “buried in a tide of humanity.” Whatever little moral ambiguity the situation might offer is eclipsed by the clarity of Bandi’s anger. The story of the Great Leader’s kindness begins “ringing out from the loudspeaker” of every town in the nation. The only response possible are the granddaughter’s anguished cries, rising in “a full-blown howl.” An endnote about how Bandi’s collection was smuggled out of the country reveals just how miraculous it is that it exists at all. (Mar.)