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May 2013

North Korean Defectors

We continue our tenth anniversary celebration with writing from North Korea. In compiling our September 2003 issue, we discovered North Korean writers can publish only propaganda, and are restricted to official outlets.  As this opaque nation becomes more visible, and threatening, on the international stage, we turn for insight to the only writers free to tell the truth: defectors. From the safety of exile, Gwak Moon-an, Jang Jin-sung, Ji Hyun-ah, Kim Sung-min, Kim Yeon-seul, Lee Ji Myung, and Park Gui-ok document famine, corruption, and the soul-crushing pressure on writers to sacrifice art and individuality in the interest of promoting the state. We thank our guest editor, Shirley Lee, who provides an illuminating introduction. Our special section showcases writing in Swahili by Abdilatif Abdalla, Mwenda Mbatiah, and Ken Walibora.

Introduction
By Shirley Lee
Two days ago, I stood at the DMZ with one of the authors in this issue, Jang Jin-sung. We looked across toward North Korea together from a guardpost on the South Korean side. Only a barbed wire fence…
I Want to Call Her Mother Again
By Park Gui-ok
My mother’s last words to us as we stood in the middle of the empty potato field, her voice carrying above the razor-sharp wind that seemed to carve away at our flesh, still ring in my ears. “You’re…
Translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
Multilingual
The Poet Who Asked for Forgiveness
By Gwak Moon-an
At its essence, the purpose of North Korean literature is to praise the Korean Workers’ Party. While South Korean poetry deals with topics such as love or life, North Korean poetry refers only to…
Translated from Korean by Shirley Lee
Multilingual
Pillow
By Jang Jin-sung
Both the seller And the buyer Have nothing to offer but themselves In Pyongyang’s marketplace The filters of cigarette butts Provided cotton for this blanket on display “Face-wash for sale!”…
Translated from Korean by Shirley Lee
Multilingual
The Arduous March
By Ji Hyun-ah
We stayed in the mountain village up until we left the North. Before that, when we had been living in the farming village, we couldn’t afford to visit our relatives in China. But after a few years…
Translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
Multilingual
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