The First State-Approved North Korean Novel in English
May 19, 2020 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Esther Kim In Conversation with Friend Translator Immanuel Kim
Friend by Paek Namnyong (Columbia University Press, 2020) was first published in 1988 in North Korea where it became a bestseller and a television series that was eventually cancelled. Thirty years later, Friend has become the first state-sanctioned North Korean novel to be published in English, translated by Immanuel Kim. It is, most surprisingly, a novel about love, marriage, and divorce.

Almost all fiction available today from North Korea was written by defectors or dissidents. Paek Namnyong is neither. A household name in North Korea, he worked first in a steel factory for ten years before enrolling at Kim Il Sung University to study literature. Paek Namnyong became part of the elite group of writers known as the April 15th Literary Production Unit. This group is devoted to writing the mythic biographies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
Obligatory Amazon link
posted by Not A Thing (4 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting; comparing the North Korean 조선말대사전 entry for 벗 with some South Korean entries makes me wonder if there is some semantic divergence going on here.
posted by Not A Thing at 4:11 PM on May 19, 2020


What a great interview—thank you for posting this article! I read it out loud to mr hgg and he immediately ordered it for me. I can’t wait to read it, and I would probably not have heard of it if you hadn’t made this post!

I liked Immanuel Kim’s comments at the end about North Korean comedies. Now I want to watch the one he said is his favourite, that his dad liked despite disliking anything to do with North Korea.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:12 PM on May 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


^^That should say “he immediately ordered the book for me.” Anyway, I’m hoping the book arrives soon! Will report back if I’m able to read it before this thread closes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:24 AM on May 20, 2020


This just came across my Pocket suggestions: Inside North Korea’s literary fiction factory (The Conversation)
Difficult to access and written in a highly stylized, dogmatic prose, North Korea’s domestic propaganda is not only largely ignored abroad, but it’s also difficult for even South Koreans to understand. It includes state-sponsored Chosun Central TV broadcasts, state-produced films, and revolutionary operas and ballads.

But one of the more illuminating forms of internal propaganda is the regime’s state-produced fiction. Published in monthly literary journals, these stories are distributed by the ruling Korean Workers’ Party to select schools and offices around the country.

In an effort to make this internal propaganda more accessible to non-Koreans, I have been translating and blogging about selected works of North Korean fiction as part of my research on North Korean cultural politics.
Meredith Shaw wrote the article in 2018, when she was a Ph.D. Candidate in the Politics and International Relations, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Here's her updated, if not current, bio from USC. And it looks like she's keeping the DPRK Lit blog going, with a post last made earlier this month (May 4, 2020).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on May 26, 2020 [1 favorite]


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