North Korean Literature from 1945-60: An Overview

SoldiersCommenter Charles (the other) frequently asks about fiction from North Korea, but the simple fact is there is not that much of it. Poking around with Google and Amazon reveals only one novel, Jia: A Novel of North Korea, but even that is by a South Korean, Hyejin Kim. And if you just do a general search on Amazon, you find that pretty much all fiction about North Korea is done by authors who are not North Korean. I suppose one of the questions is who would be translating NK lit and who would be publishing it – Kind of an even more concentrated version of the problem for South Korea.

Nothing seems to really reflect the kind of literature that one would expect to see from North Koreans themselves – that is “Juche realism” (LOL, if that term isn’t contradictory).

With that background, it is refreshing to see an academic book (at least) talking about North Korean literature. The book is called Soldiers on the Cultural Front: Developments in the Early History of North Korean Literature and Literary Policy, by Tatiana Gabroussenko of the Australian National University. The book only covers the period from 1945 to 1960, but of course that was a rather important era in the history of North Korea and, one would guess by extension, its literature.

It’s published by Hawai’i University, which has this to say about the book:

Soldiers on the Cultural Front represents the first consistent research on the early history of North Korea’s literature and literary policy in Western scholarship. It traces the introduction and development of Soviet-organized conventions in North Korean literary propaganda and investigates why the “romance with Moscow” was destined to be short lived. It reconstructs the biographies and worldviews of major personalities who shaped North Korean literature and teases these historical figures out of popular scholarly myth and misconception. The book also investigates the specific forms of control over intellectuals and literary matters in North Korea. Considering the unique phenomenon of North Korean literary critique, the author analyzes the political campaigns and purges of 1947–1960 and investigates the role of North Korean critics as “political executioners” in these events. She draws on an impressive variety and number of sources—ranging from interviews with Korean and Soviet participants, public and family archives, and memoirs to original literary and critical texts—to present a balanced and eye-opening work that will benefit those interested in not only understanding North Korean literature and society, but also rethinking forms of socialist modernity elsewhere in the world.

So, if you want a bit of peer through the NK literary window, this is a book to pick up and for an academic book it is relatively inexpensive on Amazon at $33.55.

 

4 thoughts on “North Korean Literature from 1945-60: An Overview

  1. For some short stories (or poetry maybe), I think Words Without Borders might have some fiction up. In one of their recent posts, they claim to have “published a fair amount of writing from the country” [The post is here: http://wordswithoutborders.org/dispatches/article/Leaders-and-Literature?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wwborders+Words+Without+Borders ] . As mentioned there, they also have some works published in one anthology, though not specifically dedicated to North Korea.

  2. Thank you!

    For other works, see:

    that contains an entire translated novel as an appendix
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kernbeisser/2469709564/ the grave of Han Sorya (한설야선생 )

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kernbeisser/2472020361/in/photostream/ Grave of Lee Ki Yung 리기영선생

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kernbeisser/2473255766/in/photostream/ Grave of Hong Myong Hui

    And, of course, the monthly “조선문학” http://www.eastview.com/russian/periodicals/product.asp?sku=P14409&Choson/munhak/Pyongyang/North/Korea/Korean/

    I think that really no one has gone through DPRK literature to see whether any of it is any good, and how much.

    Of course, most of it is propagandistic drivel, but there are DPRK children’s book, poetry, science fiction, mysteries etc. and not all of it is likely top be drivel.

    In considering the Soviet Union, for example, not everything written during the darkest years of the USSR was bad; some was and is quite readable and interesting.

    Or, consider this lecture

    on DPRK science fiction and children literature

    Dafna Zur
    http://www.kmu.ac.kr/programs/search/search.jsp?kwd=zur&x=7&y=16

    near you in Daegu has studied both Korean literature in translation and also DPRK science fiction and DPRK children’s literature.
    There MUST be an interview there.
    Here is her number:
    http://cms.kmu.ac.kr/golink.jsp?url=http://cms.kmu.ac.kr/wizard/wizard/frames/frame3_1.jsp?right_page=1_1.html&command=subPage&menu_type=T&_page=left.html&client_id=kor

    The great novel by Sholokhov, for example, for which he won a Nobel is an example of good literature from a bad country.

    As such, it is a pity that the ROK, which assertedly represents intellectual freedom, forbids all of this material.

    A free society ought not to act like a deeply closed society.

  3. Also, note:

    Soldiers on the Cultural Front: Developments in the Early History of North Korean Literature and Literary Policy by Tatiana Gabroussenko of the Australian National University was named to the Choice magazine list of outstanding academic titles for 2012.

    Soldiers on the Cultural Front represents the first consistent research on the early history of North Korea’s literature and literary policy in Western scholarship.

    So, for those serious about scholarship on the 3 major Korean Literatures (ROK, DPRK, and other [China, Russia, etc.]), this is a milestone work.

  4. Two review essays (not short articles) about _Soldiers on the Cultural Front_ appear in these journals:

    * _The Comparatist_, Vol. 37, May 2013, pp. 296-308,
    https://www.muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/the_comparatist/v037/37.david-west.html

    * _Journal of Asian and African Studies_, Vol. 47, No. 2, April 2012, pp. 236-249,
    http://jas.sagepub.com/content/47/2/236.short

    The author is the same, but the focus of the essays is different. Strengths/weaknesses of the book are closely analyzed.

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