Friend from North Korea by Paek Nam-nyong
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.3 MB
Paek Nam-nyong’s Friend is a tale of marital intrigue, abuse, and divorce in North Korea. A woman in her thirties comes to a courthouse petitioning for a divorce. As the judge who hears her statement begins to investigate the case, the story unfolds into a broader consideration of love and marriage. The novel delves into its protagonists’ past, describing how the couple first fell in love and then how their marriage deteriorated over the years. It chronicles the toll their acrimony takes on their son and their careers alongside the story of the judge’s own marital troubles.
A best-seller in North Korea, where Paek continues to live and write, Friend illuminates a side of life in the DPRK that Western readers have never before encountered. Far from being a propagandistic screed in praise of the Great Leader, Friend describes the lives of people who struggle with everyday problems such as marital woes and workplace conflicts. Instead of socialist-realist stock figures, Paek depicts complex characters who wrestle with universal questions of individual identity, the split between public and private selves, the unpredictability of existence, and the never-ending labor of maintaining a relationship. This groundbreaking translation of one of North Korea’s most popular writers offers English-language readers a page-turner full of psychological tension as well as a revealing portrait of a society that is typically seen as closed to the outside world.
Jeong Jin Wu wrote down a summary of Sun Hee’s side of the story on the divorce petition, but he knew that this was only one side of the story.
Sun Hee glanced over at the legal document and held her breath in anticipation. After letting out a soft sigh, she carefully asked, “When do you think the divorce hearing will take place?”
Jeong Jin Wu looked up from the form and said, “Divorce is not a performance, where you go on and off stage. I have to meet with your husband and listen to his side of the story, and then I have to consult the People’s Committee and his factory administrators, and then after that—”
“You don’t believe what I’ve said?” Sun Hee interrupted.
“The law does not approve a divorce claim based on one person’s appeal. It bases the argument on objectivity and justice.” Jeong Jin Wu had to put his foot down in this matter.
Sun Hee held the corner of her dress as if she had done something wrong, and after a moment, she got up from her seat.
“Comrade Judge, allow me to divorce my husband. I beg of you. I believe I’ve explained my situation clearly, but you don’t seem to understand.”
This was a common plea from divorce claimants. Jeong Jin Wu closed the legal file and, with a gentle voice, said, “Comrade Sun Hee, please calm down. The divorce process takes a long time. Go back home and continue doing what you’ve been doing. Divorce is one thing, but you have a child at home who needs you.”
Sun Hee wiped the tears along her long, thick eyelashes one last time, bowed in deference to Jeong Jin Wu, and left the office. The door closed quietly behind her, and the clicking of her high heels faded down the corridor.
The office’s serenity was restored. The warmth of the sunlight came in through the tall window, but Jeong Jin Wu was not at ease. Sun Hee’s gloomy countenance and her family problems had cast a dark shadow over his heart. He walked over to the window to catch a glimpse of Sun Hee leaving the court.
Jeong Jin Wu crossed his arms and paced back and forth across his office. The hardwood floors creaked at every step. Each creak felt like stakes being driven into his heart. He sat down in his chair, and then the telephone rang.