The Red Years: A Review by Sarah Katsiyiannis

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  • June 19, 2020

The Red Years: Forbidden Poems from Inside North Korea is a collection of piercing poems from the author Bandi, who writes under the pseudonym that means “firefly.” Ironically, Bandi used his skills as a propaganda writer in North Korea to expose and document the regime he lives under. The English translation honors the Korean tradition of musically expressive language, such as in the following stanzas:

The sound of chains and whips, those chilling sounds
Gone—and the barred windows thrown open, wide open.
Kick away your seats and arise, my friends.
Do you not hear the sound of freedom’s bells?
Mansae, mansae, manmansae! Hail freedom!

Our mouths, once packed with gravel, are open again.
Let’s sing the songs we love—to our heart’s content.
They took away our ears, but now they’re open, wide.
Let us fill ourselves with joy, this taste, this world, so vast.

Mansae, mansae, manmansae! Hail freedom! [1]

In this section, Bandi dreams about the day where he and his nation are free from oppression. The exclamation “Mansae!” means “Ten thousand years!” It’s the Korean equivalent of “Long live!” or “Hail!” when associated with a ruler. These poems compel the reader to empathize and share Bandi’s dream of freedom for the people of North Korea.

The Red Years is translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl. It is available for purchase at ZED Books.


Notes:

[1] “A Dream”, pg. 63