Words Without Borders – North Korean Defectors Out Now

The May Words Without Borders is out now featuring North Korean Defectors. A very interesting collection and timely.

Nonfiction by Shirley Lee


The mere use of everyday language is a subversive act in the North Korean literary context.

Nonfiction by Park Gui-ok

I Want to Call Her Mother Again

After that day, I had no mother.

Translated by Sora Kim-Russell bilingual version

Nonfiction by Gwak Moon-an

The Poet Who Asked for Forgiveness

Because his poetry did not exalt Party ideology, his life could only end in tragedy.

Translated by Shirley Lee bilingual version

Poetry by Jang Jin-sung


Nothing to offer but themselves / In Pyongyang’s marketplace

Translated by Shirley Lee bilingual version

Nonfiction by Ji Hyun-ah

The Arduous March

With rations cut off, people began to starve.

Translated by Sora Kim-Russell bilingual version

Poetry by Kim Sung-min

A Rice Story

Food bartered for your sister’s chastity.

Translated by Shirley Lee bilingual version

Literary Life in North Korea at Publishing Perspectives

Publishing Perspectives has an interesting look at literary life in North Korea. While it may not be news, North Korea is not the Soviet Union with its underground of writers hoping to smuggle their work out to the west. North Korea is so controlled that even those risky moments of rebellion don’t exist. And naturally, the works are pure propoganda

B.R. Myers warns that “North Korea is country in which all cultural activity is subjugated to the needs of the Workers Party. Even a simple love story, for example, will carry a propaganda message — a man will fall in love with a woman because she has the right attitude toward working for the state.”

Another typical story might be: A solider is lazy and not sweeping the floor of his tent, so a comrade does it for him. The bad soldier comes in and sees what has been done and bursts into tears and says he’s sorry.

The author of the book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers (Melville House) which is partly reviewed you may know as the author of attacks on modern literature that have appeared in The Atlantic.