‘Something Resembling Normal Life’


Patrick Maurus/Revue Tangun
Paek Nam-nyong; from a 2012 documentary by Patrick Maurus

Hiroji Kubota/Magnum Photos
A newlywed couple on the banks of the Taedong River, Pyongyang, North Korea, 1981

As a graduate student at the University of California at Riverside studying Korean literature, Kim– who is now a professor at George Washington University specializing in North Korean culture– had actually become curious about North Korean fiction, which was usually dismissed as mind-numbing propaganda. In the late 1940s, the Koreanstudies specialist Tatiana Gabroussenko composes, a going to group of Soviet writers and artists tried to persuade their North Korean colleagues not to compose specifically about the Party and Kim Il Sung but to proclaim “eternal topics” such as love or flowers for a change.1 Soviet calls to “humanize” North Korean literature heightened after de-Stalinization in the mid-1950s. As Immanuel Kim explains in his introduction, Friend ought to be checked out as an item of this middle age of North Korean literature.

As a graduate student at the University of California at Riverside studying Korean literature, Kim– who is now a teacher at George Washington University specializing in North Korean culture– had ended up being curious about North Korean fiction, which was normally dismissed as mind-numbing propaganda. In the late 1940s, the Koreanstudies professional Tatiana Gabroussenko writes, a visiting group of Soviet writers and artists attempted to convince their North Korean coworkers not to write exclusively about the Party and Kim Il Sung but to proclaim “everlasting topics” such as love or flowers for a modification.1 Soviet calls to “humanize” North Korean literature heightened after de-Stalinization in the mid-1950s. As Immanuel Kim explains in his intro, Friend must be read as an item of this middle age of North Korean literature. He wants to get to the bottom of the marital conflict and find out which parent needs to take the child.The personality cult is blessedly missing from Friend– according to Immanuel Kim, this is typical of later works of North Korean literature– and the book is practically completely free of the magniloquent political statements that distend many socialist realist works. Perhaps someday well be able to check out the North Korean equivalent of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyns Gulag novella whose 1962 publication was a watershed minute in Soviet culture.Kim says hes done with North Korean literature.

From the first page of Friend, one is struck by the imaginary judges own distress, which is so hardly ever a function in divorce stories: “Much like an angler trying to untangle knots in a fishing line, Jeong Jin Wu was upset by the concern of needing to handle another households torment.” He questions about the reason for each divorce and hopes its a minor one, due to the fact that those cases are most convenient for him to solve. Most of all, Jeong stresses over the children. Hes ready to grant a divorce when he sees that lives are being destroyed by an unhappy marriage, however he knows that kids will suffer in spite of his finest efforts. Friend suggests that a North Korean divorce judges job is not only to settle the terms of a divorce however to decide whether a couple should divorce in the very first place. , if possible he should assist them fix up.. Jeongs participation in his cases extends far beyond the courtroom; he performs comprehensive examinations that include not just interviews with the divorcing parties and their visits however children and interviews with their friends and associates. He drops in on Seok Chun and Sun Hee, who have actually applied for divorce, and discovers their young boy standing outside in the rain, waiting on his parents to come house. When the judge understands that the kid has a fever, he brings him back to his own home, showers him, covers him in a blanket, and feeds him a warm supper. He asks him concerns like, “Hey, do you like your mom more or your dad?” He wishes to get to the bottom of the marital dispute and learn which moms and dad should take the child.The character cult is blessedly missing from Friend– according to Immanuel Kim, this is normal of later works of North Korean literature– and the book is practically totally without the magniloquent political statements that distend numerous socialist realist works. The collectivist logic of state socialist art is still apparent, and specific emotions are closely connected to political concerns. The judge feels distress not only out of compassion for private suffering but because he sees the family as a “unit of society” and the dissolution of a marital relationship as a blow to the polity. A worker unhappy in your home will end up being lax in his responsibilities; his supervisor may become bad-tempered; production quotas may be left unmet.Jeongs unhappiness over his cases also stems from problems in his own life– unlike standard-issue socialist realist heroes, he isnt ideal. His wife, Eun Ok, is passionately devoted to her work as a researcher in an agricultural laboratory. Raised in a cold, mountainous area, she has actually dedicated her life to establishing vegetable stress that will endure the extreme environment and feed individuals in her house area. She is away for twenty days out of monthly; the lonely judge resents her absence, daydreaming about a relaxing, traditional marital relationship with a housewife. Considering that the day they satisfied its been obvious that she is cleverer than he is, and that she is driven by an acute sense of social duty. He believes ruefully about a conversation they had on their wedding event night:”Comrade Jin Wu, when we receive our new home, I was intending on using the bedroom as a greenhouse so that I can inspect on the plants when I return from the research lab. Would that be all right?” “Of course it will. I will purchase you all the flowerpots you need,” stated Jeong Jin Wu. Eun Ok, entirely moved by Jeong Jin Wus commitment, looked into his eyes and guaranteed eternal love, an unified family, and positive results from the research study lab. Now she likes her veggies as if they were her children, and hes stuck running the greenhouse while shes away. However we understand he loves her. Though her hands are rough and her hair is thin and dry with age, when she gets home he is overcome with feelings of “support, tranquility, and joy.” An American recommendations writer might inform him not to remain in a marital relationship where veggies come prior to his emotional needs. This is North Korea, and the individuals require to eat.Seok Chun and Sun Hee meet at the steel factory where Seok Chun works, as his author once did, as a lathe operator. Their flirtation is depicted in unintentionally entertaining passages whose commercial eroticism will feel familiar to anyone who has read Soviet novels: Amid the sound of all the running makers, Seok Chun was able to distinguish the noise of the friction press that Sun Hee ran. He could see drops of sweat rolling down her forehead, around her lustrous eyes, and down her white cheeks as she arduously worked journalism. When Seok Chun hears Sun Hee sing at an amateur performance arranged by the Factory Arts Committee, he frets that shes out of his league. Quickly he proposes: “Being a lathe operator. Its genuinely fulfilling, and like the sound of the rapids, it, too, has a melodic tune. I just need somebody who will play that tune with me. Pal, do you understand what Im talking about?” She does.Theyre pleased at initially, but things get rocky after Sun Hee stops her job to pursue a singing career and swiftly becomes a star. She wants Seok Chun to register in the Engineering College to enhance his technical abilities, but Seok Chun firmly insists that hes pleased with life as a simple lathe operator. This story prevails in many societies: the gifted spouses career surpasses that of her unambitious husband, and marital discord follows. But how must we interpret this episode from a political perspective?As a veteran reader of Soviet fiction, I was tempted to conclude that we are indicated to condemn Sun Hee as somebody determined simply by a bourgeois desire for social status, denigrating the worthy work of an unsung hero of the proletariat. Seok Chun takes a similar line. However this novel was written well after the prime time of Stalin-style commercial heroes, at a time when North Korean literature sought to glorify education and technical abilities. Eventually, we discover that Seok Chuns refusal to pursue an education is stopping him from making his best possible contribution to the common good. He creates a beneficial gadget, but because he doesnt understand how to make professional sketches, it takes even more time and money to establish the maker than was necessary.After the couple chooses to declare divorce, Jeong is appointed to their case. In his moderate method, the judge functions as our guide through the novels ideological thinking. Sun Hee acts badly, neglecting her other half and child, the judge is inclined to be flexible. She has an extraordinary talent that is of usage to the country. “Performing artists were different from other employees,” he shows: Their special present could trigger them to be vainglorious … She was as much a part of her music as the music belonged of her. As an artist, she was responsible for moving individuals of the nation through tunes, lyrics, and her voice. The judge concludes that Seok Chun is the one more at fault: He had actually ended up being contented in his work, feeling more pride at being acknowledged as a humble worker than at actually completing his tasks. He developed a tight fence around himself under the cover of diligence and nationwide duty, but in doing so, he excluded his spouse and his child. This accurate friction between the couple made Sun Hee react negatively, even imperiously, towards Seok Chun. His reluctance to meet his real national task– the task to progress and advance in his social position– thrust Sun Hee into anguish. The judges insights assist the couple reconcile, in the nick of time to commemorate their tenth wedding event anniversary.Friend is plainly the product of a later on, rather more relaxed duration of official North Korean literature, showing a level of ambiguity and flexibility that is maybe comparable to that of post-Stalinist Soviet literature. Allegedly bourgeois qualities like vanity, excessive love of stylish clothes and cosmetics, and a desire for money or popularity are not condemned reflexively. There are almost no villains; instead, everyone requires education, sympathy, and help to enable them to reform.The unique likewise acknowledges that the state isnt ideal. Corrupt officials restrain domestic violence examinations and embezzle funds, and Seok Chun is cheated of a prize he was worthy of to win for his innovation. The judge believes madly that there are “still a lot of people … who did not appreciate the nations efforts to advance technically and enhance the economy, who rather flaunted their authority as they rested on the throne of administrative power.” This remark seems like a reflection of propaganda requireds, maybe meant to scapegoat a few corrupt bureaucrats for bigger social problems, but its a long way from pure socialist realist fantasy.Kim is clear that Friend is not a case in point of North Korean literature; its uncommon functions are the factor that foreign audiences find it palatable. Still, its tempting to wonder whether the novels welcome of gray locations tips at thawing censorship. Possibly someday well be able to read the North Korean equivalent of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyns Gulag novella whose 1962 publication was a watershed minute in Soviet culture.Kim states hes made with North Korean literature. (His monograph Rewriting Revolution: Women, Sexuality, and Memory in North Korean Fiction was published in 2018.) His new research focuses on North Korean funny movies. The tasks are plainly linked: to understand a foreign culture, you need to know what people like to read and what makes them laugh. The DPRKs human rights abuses and the ruthless absurdity of the Kim dynasty have actually gotten much well-deserved attention in the Western media. These shouldnt be the only things we understand about North Koreans.


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