Bandi’s collection of seven provoking stories was my first exposure to North Korean literature. There has been several works by North Korean writers but these were published after the writers have defected, many now settled in South Korea. The Accusation enjoys notoriety as being the first (perhaps the only one so far) piece of literature speaking of the oppression that breached North Korean borders while the writer remains settled in his homeland.
When the Accusation was published in 2017, Bandi served the communist government as member of the state-authorized writers league. Bandi is the writer’s pseudonym and the Korean word for firefly, apt for the decades of darkness brought by the communist party regime. How Bandi’s manuscript was smuggled out of North Korea could be a spy novel in itself, its transport fueled by cries for freedom.
Bandi’s seven stories in The Accusation illumine the faces of sufferings under Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il’s tyrannical regimes. Il-Sung ruled from 1948 until his death in 1994 and Jong-Il succeeded until 2011. They are respectively the grandfather and father of Kim Jong-un, currently supreme leader and chief of workers’ party of North Korea.
A mother forced to prevent pregnancy because her child has no future to speak of; the grandfather’s defection would forever taint the family’s record. A factory worker tended for years an elm tree in his backyard thinking that a better North Korea can be had if everyone will work hard; in the end he hacked his own tree and his own dreams. An exiled mother comes to grips with the invisible force that controls Koreans: fear. A farmer sacrificed his career, health, and family to spur agricultural production amid natural calamities; as production stayed low due in part to the lack of local government support, blame was placed on him and he was sent to prison. These are the human conditions that Bandi wrote from 1989 to 1993.
Freedom is a most often misunderstood concept. For those whose lives have always been surrounded with freedom, freedom is taken for granted. You see people in America protesting against the lockdown and wearing of face mask because it is violation of their freedom. They forget that their freedom has a boundary: the health and wellbeing of others and the capacity of medical frontliners to absorb burgeoning Covid-19 cases.
Meanwhile, we have Filipinos arguing that the country has too much freedom. Therefore they voted for a president whom they believe could give the country the desperately-needed discipline. They even go as far as being okay with revising martial law history and forgetting the former dictator’s crimes against the nation. Saying that we are in a mess right now because we lack discipline is too simplistic, obviously coming from someone with more privileges and whose privileges are at risk because of the surge of hungry and displaced people.
The Accusation is a gripping reminder for us to give freedom the respect it deserves. I don’t want another tyrannical ruler and I don’t want another colonizer. The freedom we enjoy now has been fought with so much blood, sweat, and tears. Freedom is holy, way beyond mere politics. Freedom is not mere lack of discipline. Freedom is caring for a friend or neighbor, making sure that our choices and actions do not harm them in any way.