A super-interesting take on North-Korean-Literature from the “A Year of Reading the World” website. The first post talks a little bit about My Life and Faith, a memoir by Korean Army war correspondent and ardent DPRK patriot Ri In Mo.
Which North Korean mouthpiece Cao de Benos (more about/from him later) says contains
a point of view completely unknown in the West…that of utter love and devotion and sacrifice for a country, political system, and especially leadership, that (most) of the rest of the world prefers to despise and hate.
londonchoirgirl (the blogger, who also writes for the Huffington Post under the unlikely nom de plume. “Ann Morgan!”) ultimately concludes that the book is interesting, but cliched and hypocritical, noting:
as Mr Cao de Benos confirmed to me, variations on this story – books ‘showing honour, loyalty and sacrifice for the motherland’ – are the only narratives allowed in the DPRK. Reading the world would not be an option there. And no amount of passion, rhetoric or idealism can make up for that.
In a Huffington Post article londonchoirgirl (LCG) further explains Mr De Benes through his website:
Set up in 2000 by the pioneering Spaniard Alejandro Cao de Benos (the first, if not only, foreigner to be granted a North Korean passport and allowed to work for the government) the official website of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Korean Friendship Association proclaims its mission to be ‘building international ties in the fields of culture, friendship, diplomacy and business’.
LCG’s interaction with De Benos are pretty interesting as when she asks for North Korea fiction he responds:
“I am sorry but do not know of any adult fiction since the times of the creation of the Republic. All literature was politically oriented for setting the base of the new socialist country.
“Books, films or cartoon in DPRK must have the meaning, moral and ideology. There is no adult fiction because all books published are either poems or based in historical facts.”
This causes LCG to ponder, because she knows that she has read North Korean fiction (and not just in their often laughable official press releases) and as she thinks about these two things she comes to a clever conclusion:
Then it struck me that perhaps the word “fiction” was the problem. If you understood it in its negative sense, meaning “fabrication” or “lies”, then there was clearly no room for it in a country where all literature is believed to be “based in historical facts.”
Which seems like an accurate way of reconciling statements with reality. In fact, I’d argue that this analysis is good even if you take away the perjorative “fabrication” or “lies.” Even “made up” or even “fanciful” would work in this argument if you accept that literature is based in historical facts.
Another data point might be found in this description of one aspect of North Korean fiction from Open Doors:
The “regeneration” of a Korean Christian was another favorite topic of North Korean fiction of the late 1950s. A protagonist of such stories was initially misled by scheming missionaries and their willful collaborators and foolishly became a Christian, but then some incident or bitter personal experiences helped him or her to discover the depraved nature of Christian teaching. Of course, he or she rejected the “imperialist ideological poison” and led others to eventual enlightenment.
Because, of course this is fiction in the written sense, but fits into the Northern Korean model of fiction as historical fact supporting the regime.
In any case, as I mentioned in comments elsewhere, I have ordered Korean Short Stories: A Collection from North Korea, which should broaden my understanding, although the titles alone hint at a certain juche-alignment^^:
History of Iron Pyon Hui Gun
Happiness Sok Yun Gi Ogi Chon Se Bong
Fellow Travellers Kim Byong Hun
Everyone in Position! Om Dan Ung
Unfinished Sculpture Ko Byong Sam