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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