Book News: Children's Books From North Korean Dictators?

Mar 14, 2014

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Departed North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung are both credited with producing children's books, according a doctoral candidate at Australia's Sydney University. In a research paper published in The International Review of Korean Studies, Christopher Richardson writes that Kim Jong Il is credited as the author of a book titled Boys Wipe Out Bandits, "an ode to the redemptive power of ultra-violence," while Kim Il-sung is seemingly responsible for the fable The Butterfly and The Cock. Richardson told The Guardian that being credited with the books doesn't necessarily mean the late leaders of the Hermit Kingdom actually wrote them: "Even the publishers in the DPRK maintain a degree of ambiguity about the authorship of these tales, attributing the stories to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, whilst acknowledging they were written down by someone else, The government thus musters a team of ghost writers whose job is to capture the essence of the leader's political and literary wisdom, known as 'the seed.' " The father-son pair aren't the only dictators who had literary aspirations: Joseph Stalin was an amateur poet, Iraq's Saddam Hussein wrote a book, and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi wrote treatises, essays and stories.
  • Winners of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award — including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Frank Bidart — were announced at a ceremony Thursday night in New York. Adichie won the fiction prize for Americanah, her novel of love, hair and race (though NPR reviewer Jennifer Reese noted that it is "so smart about so many subjects that to call it a novel about being black in the 21st century doesn't even begin to convey its luxurious heft and scope"). The poetry prize went to Bidart's collection Metaphysical Dog, the book that led Craig Morgan Teicher to call him "one of the true living masters of contemporary poetry." Sheri Fink won the nonfiction prize for Five Days at Memorial, which describes in unflinching detail the crisis at New Orleans' Memorial Hospital following Hurricane Katrina, when doctors had to choose which patients to save. In the autobiography category, Amy Wilentz took the prize for Farewell, Fred Voodoo, which tells the story of her time reporting in Haiti. Finally, Leo Damrosch won in the biography category for Jonathan Swift, and Franco Moretti took the criticism prize for Distant Reading. The winners of three additional awards were announced in January: The John Leonard Prize, which is given to a debut book, was awarded to Anthony Marra for his novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena; Rolando Hinojosa-Smith received a lifetime achievement award; and Katherine A. Powers was given the Nona Balakian Citation for excellence in reviewing.
  • The Millions collects stories about editors' first acquisitions: " 'See here, I want you to come to Random House and lose some money for us with literary books,' the press's president and publisher, Harold Evans, told Daniel Menaker, then fiction editor of The New Yorker, in 1995. 'You have five years to fook oop.' " Meanwhile, at NPR's Monkey See blog, Martha Woodruff decodes the confusing world of book auctions.
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