Nam-nyong Paek, Immanuel Kim
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.
A North Korean version of Marriage Story. . .This novel is so fascinating. * Paperback Paris * The publication of Immanuel Kim's painstaking translation of Paek Nam-nyong's Friend is a significant event. It promises to shift the focus away from those texts that simply confirm our preconceived notions about the DPRK toward a subtler and more informed consideration of literary practices there. -- Travis Workman, University of Minnesota Friend depicts daily life in North Korean society. The psychology of human relationships evoked in this fascinating novel shows that North Koreans, far from being brainwashed robots, are as fragile as people everywhere-that they too simply want to be happy together, and suffer intensely when things go wrong. -- Brother Anthony, Sogang University Friend offers a fascinating glimpse into the realities of North Korean life. It reminds us that the people of that country may face hardships, but they also experience the same domestic challenges that afflict humans everywhere. * New York Journal of Books * Paek's focus on individuals and family, and his willingness to acknowledge failings, make for a novel that manages to be engaging, and even quite moving, even beyond its context. * The Complete Review * Friend offers an astute psychological exploration of marriage, the work that goes into such a partnership, and the many ways it could fail us. * Minneapolis Star Tribune * Paek weaves themes of greed, corruption, and self-sacrifice into a subtle, restrained narrative . . . A rare glimpse into an insular world. * Kirkus Reviews * A layered story of family obligations stretched to breaking point . . . Reading Friend is like sifting through a black box for clues into a sealed culture. * Times Literary Supplement * With still so little known about the North Korean people beyond mostly tortuous escapee narratives, Kim enables a rare, welcome glimpse into 'a messy world of human emotions and relationships that is at once entirely alien and eerily familiar.' * Booklist, Starred Review * This tender, witty novel is indeed a page-turner. Neither a searing indictment of the regime nor a propaganda screed, Friend illuminates the personal rather than the political, the daily trials of workplace conflicts and marital woes. In doing so, it sharpens our ability to see the fragility and messy humanity in lives too often obscured by state agendas. * The Guardian * In its candid examination of domestic conflict and female ambition, Friend unsettles expectations of North Korean life . . . [it] offers a beguiling introduction to the everyday, with none of the rockets and military parades that the words "North Korea" often bring to mind. * The New York Times *
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