A question lingered about whether fiction did a better job of illustrating history. Arvind spoke about a work of fiction that showed how important the individual human struggle acts effectively as a mirror of human society. The book called The Accusation by a North Korean writer with the pseudonym Bandi (which translates as firefly) gives a relatively clear account of North Korea in seven short stories. Arvind was initially skeptical about reading the book fearing propaganda but many positive reviews later, he started and was then enamored by the panorama of the North Korean society that sprang up before him. Bandi has been described by some as the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Pyongyang, courtesy the dissident literature that Solzhenitsyn penned during the Stalinist era. Very little is known about Bandi except for the literary merit of his work and his Chekhovian eye. His translator Deborah Smith has added to the beauty of the work. An account of one short story that peeked into the unfortunate life of a party loyalist was shocking, to say the least. Perhaps the beauty of his prose could be attributed to Bandi being marooned by the politics of his country and uncertain of any target audience at all. His prose caters to nothing but the truth.
So storytelling is really an exercise in truth-telling. Like Jaya said, “Regarding the fiction vs non-fiction question as ideal for representation, I think fiction wins hands down Learning anything factual requires that you understand the story behind it. The story of history matters when you understand what happened to the people who lived at that time on a day-to-day basis. So the author outlines their daily grievances, which may not necessarily amount to the critique of the regime.”
Samarth spoke of another writer who was revolutionary in his approach. Fyodor Dostoyevsky chronicled the second half of the nineteenth century. Russia and all of Europe were going through an extraordinary transformation of culture and industrialization. It was a time of intense polarization. Dostoyevsky was a traditionalist and in his groundbreaking novel Notes from Underground, his unnamed defiant narrator broods all day and all night and pens a contradictory memoir that serves as a looking glass to society around and is a scathing attack on the hypocrisies of the society that he lived in. This is what his memoir sounds like:
“I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have,” But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well–let it get worse!…. I have been going on like that for a long time–twenty years. Now I am forty.”
Samarth was so impressed by the way the weakness of will of the narrator was depicted that he drew flowchart chronicling the movement of the narrator’s thoughts. The narrator is seized by a paralysis of will; perhaps a godless rationality that left him incapable of striving. Dostoyevsky’s ideology was an amalgam of Orthodoxy, rationality, Western ideals and romanticism and this seminal novel has influenced the breed of existential thinkers in Europe. The idea of free will that was discussed led to the discussion of a book called Against Nature by that follows the life of a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa and descends into depravity.
More books in Part 6.