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7 Books that take you inside North Korea

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have reached a boiling point and sensational headlines (nuclear button! Sanctions! Assassination! War???) dominate the front page of every major newspaper. But aside from all the media attention, how much do we really know about the most mysterious country in the world? From a collection of short stories that provides a compelling voice to the lives of ordinary citizens governed by a brutal dictatorship to a memoir detailing a defector’s harrowing escape to freedom, these seven literary works offers the world a rare glimpse into the Orwellian dystopia of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi, translated by Deborah Smith

The Accusation, a collection of short stories written by a living dissident, was hidden inside The Selected Works of Kim Il-sung and perilously smuggled out of North Korea. The seven stories paints an eye-opening portrait of life under the brutal regime from a woman who weeps mournfully at the death of Kim Il-sung’s death even though her husband is a political prisoner, suffering in a labor camp to a son who is denied a travel permit to visit his dying mother. The Accusation is a testament to the resilience of the North Korean people and a proof that goodness that still exists even in the most hostile environments.

How I Became North Korean by Krys Lee

Lee’s debut novel follows three disparate people as they leave behind their past and and become fugitives in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, a Chinese border town. Yongju is the son of elite North Koreans who were marked for a purge by the State. Separated from his family after the escape, he joins a gang of defectors living in a cave in the mountains, dreaming of making it to South Korea. Jangmi is a pregnant young woman who sells herself in matrimony to a Korean Chinese who pays to smuggle her out of the country. Danny is a closeted gay teenage Christian living in America. After his crush humiliates him in front of his high school, he runs away from home to Yanbian, where he was born to experience “being out of my time line, in China, a body returning to the past to escape the past.” Together, they struggle to survive in a hostile place encroached with danger in hopes of making it to a better life.

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How to read North Korea: 10 books that take you inside the hermit kingdom

By James Kidd

North Korea – or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, if you prefer – has been a growing source of fascination for the rest of the world since 1948, when “supreme leader” Kim Il-sung began fashioning the “workers’ state” into what’s now widely described as the hermit kingdom.

Dynastic rule has continued with his son, Kim Jong-il, and grandson, Kim Jong-un, who have also perpetuated the tradition of thumbing the national nose at the wider world in general and the United States, in particular.

With the nation again embroiled in geo­political brinkmanship, Post Magazine picks 10 essential books for a better understanding of North Korea.

Nothing To Envy, by Barbara Demick (2009)

Arguably the best-known book about North Korea, this finalist for the United States’ National Book Award and winner of Britain’s Samuel Johnson Prize profiles six ordinary North Koreans trying to escape from the provincial town of Chongjin. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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Next month’s Script Road literary festival in Macau set to be biggest yet

By Liana Cafolla

Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Madeleine Thien and acclaimed Korean-American writer Krys Lee are among more than 60 influential literary figures attending The Script Road this year, Macau’s literary festival, making it the biggest since the event was launched in 2012.

Getting bigger was not intentional, says the festival’s programme director and co-founder, Hélder Beja. Last year’s festival turned out to be almost bigger than the festival team could manage and the plan was for the 2017 edition to be smaller. But with more writers asking to attend this year, it just didn’t turn out that way. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post

 


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Krys Lee: becoming North Korean and entering ‘elsewhere’

Born in South Korea, raised in America, educated in England and equally comfortable speaking Korean or English, novelist Krys Lee has trouble pinpointing her “home.” She is now based in Seoul, where her world is “intimate yet alienated,” but when she returns to her old lives in the U.K. and U.S. — places that “should be immediately close to me” — she feels no different.

“I return feeling more a prodigal son (or daughter) who no longer knows what home is,” she says.

The idea of home is a complicated one for Lee, and she examines and reexamines it through her writing. It’s a theme that runs through the recently published, critically acclaimed “How I Became a North Korean,” a haunting, aching novel about three characters — two of them North Korean and one Korean-American — who are stuck in China waiting to travel to South Korea. Read more


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Krys Lee on South Korea, Writing, and Disaster by Jeff Kingston

Jeff Kingston bumps into Lee in a subway station and starts a conversation with her: LARB

KrysleeI recently caught up with Krys Lee, author of the acclaimed short story collection Drifting House (2012). Emerging from the Digital Media City (DMC) subway station, I saw a woman reading Roland Barthe’s Image, Music, Text and figured it must be her.

After buying some mangoes (three for about $5) from a truck vendor we fell into conversation walking through the ghost town of DMC, a gleaming complex of office towers, wide boulevards, open plazas, snazzy sculptures, and very few pedestrians. It is only 30 minutes by subway from the teeming streets of central Seoul, but feels like a distant futuristic planet and, shall we say, a bit soulless. Lee points out all the leading media and production companies that jumped on board this government project to establish a thriving media hub, but early on a Friday night, the lights were dim and sidewalks rolled up. Continue reading


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Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Amy Tan subverts clichés in her epic tale of Chinese courtesan life, says Krys Lee in FT

Valley of AmazementThe Valley of Amazement doesn’t waste any time. The long opening sentence leads us quickly into the only high-class courtesan house in Shanghai run by a white woman, where innumerable complications soon arise. Amy Tan maintains the pace skilfully as we follow the story of three generations of women, spanning the transition from dynastic rule to the early 20th century and travelling from Shanghai to San Francisco and on to a remote village deep in the mountains of China.

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Literary mania descends on Singapore

The Singapore Writers Festival 2012 was kicked off yesterday (2 November) by festival director Mr Paul Tan, festival steering committee chairman Mr Philip Jeyaretnam and Mr Lawrence Wong, Senior Minister of State, MICA, Singpaore at the festival venue at SMU.

Welcoming the authors and guests, Mr Tan said that more than 200 authors are participating in the festival in nearly 200 events spread over nine days.

The festival is one of the most prestigious literary events of Asia which has now become an annual event. Eminent authors such as Michael Cunningham, Pico Iyer, Huang Chun-Ming, Kjell Ola Dahl and Jeet Thayil are headlining the festival. Alongside these seasoned writers, new writers such as Krys Lee, Krishna Udayasankar, Zafar Anjum (editor of this website, Kitaab.org), Gwen Lee and Nirosette are also making their appearance.

As part of the opening ceremony, poet Alvin Pang read two poems (both on property, a subject of fetish in Singapore) from his new collection of poetry, When the Barbarians Arrive. It was followed by a dramatised dialect story-telling by two veteran radio deejays of the famous radio station, Rediffusion (now defunct), which is being relaunched next year. The radio play in Hokkien raised many laughs. Thereafter, there was a sombre performance by some Malay students of SMU,  based on a poem by Malay literary pioneer Masuri S N.

After the performances, guests moved to the festival pavilion for a reception. At the venue, Kinokuniya had already opened the bookshop that contains books by all participating authors.