Paek Namnyong’s Friend.

I don’t think I’d ever given a moment’s thought to North Korean literature, so I was fascinated to read Esther Kim’s conversation at LitHub with Immanuel Kim, translator of Paek Namnyong’s Friend, “the first state-sanctioned North Korean novel to be published in English”:

Immanuel Kim: When I started my PhD at UC Riverside in 2000, I was reading South Korean literature minus the colonial period [1910-1945]. All of my colleagues were doing the same, and I wondered, What more can I add to this field? What about North Korea? It was a crazy jump. All my friends were like You’re crazy, man. During my first eight months of actually reading the stories, I felt completely discouraged and disheartened. That was until I came across the 1960s novels, which were excellent.

I started making a personal database of authors that moved me. Paek Namnyong was one of them. I read every single one of his short stories and novels. It wasn’t a coincidence. There’s a reason these writers are respected by the Writers Union. Then I started looking for stories that were more relatable to the English-speaking world. I read almost a thousand.

EK: How did you come across Friend?

IK: I first came across Friend while I was doing research in 2009. I went to the North Korean collection at the National Library in Seoul and started reading their number one literary journal. I started from the very beginning and read through the 1960s to the ’90s. They were difficult. All my preconceived notions of North Korean lit were coming true, and I was bored out of my mind. I thought, I can’t say anything significant about North Korean literature! It’s all propaganda and terrible.

The stories were really didactic, but my advisor told me to be patient, and he recommended Friend. As soon as I opened it up, the novel was very different from your usual North Korean literature. Typically, the story focuses on setting, and the action begins halfway through the book. But because of the main character [Sunhee, a celebrity singer], there’s drama from the beginning and I was hooked.

EK: One thing that really surprised me about Friend, and which I found refreshing, was the reversal of gender roles. The father characters are the ones staying at home, taking care of the children and doing the housework while the women pursue a career outside the home. It’s almost more progressive than South Korean society, which is so patriarchal…

IK: Paek’s other novels don’t have pronounced gender roles and dynamics like this one. But something that’s common in all his writing is strong women. His father passed away when he was young, so he lived with a single mother. He grew up with the idea that women are strong, if not stronger than men, and very capable of raising a family with no issues. He has two older sisters who are equally strong, and he’s father to two daughters. So that was a source of inspiration.

In Friend, the women are extremely independent. They question the role of the men. This characterization of women isn’t unique to Paek. In the 1980s, there were a lot of North Korean novels that brought out the strength of women. I won’t say they’re feminist, but they were challenging patriarchy.

E. Tammy Kim reviewed the novel for the NY Times:

“Friend” is, at times, didactic and propagandistic, but for every unctuous sentence, there’s another that points to blemishes behind North Korea’s facade. Paek’s characters acknowledge the scarcity of electricity, corruption among government officials and a societal need for “becoming intellectualized in scientific technology and the arts.” The translation, by the scholar Immanuel Kim, can feel stilted, but usefully so, connoting the formality of the North Korean vernacular.

If only life were long enough to learn all the languages and investigate all the literatures! (Though I certainly wouldn’t have had the patience and fortitude to wade through as much dreck as Immanuel Kim did while looking for the good stuff.)


  1. I forgot to mention I got the first link from MetaFilter, where anem0ne posted the following very interesting comment:

    the title interested me, given that i know that the term for “friend” in the south shifted from the term in the north because of political usage, and after some digging, it turned up something more interesting, at least to me.

    the usual term for “friend” in the south is “친구”¹, which etymologically is somewhat newer, because the older term for “friend”, “동무”² was used in the north for the term “comrade”. i had expected that the title would be 동무, but was surprised to find that it’s actually 벗³, which is a pretty informal (but also old) term used across the peninsula for “friend”, but is probably closer in context to “buddy” or “pal”.

    ¹”chingu”, like the body part “chin” + “goo”
    ²”dongmu”, where the o is like “goat” + “moo” like the cow
    ³”beot”, somewhere between “bud” and “butt” — think jason mendoza talking about his bud hole

  2. beot has an old-fashioned, poetic ring to it and it would be extremely rare nowadays to see the term used to refer to a literal friend. You might occasionally come across someone calling books or nature their beot, or you could find it as part of compound words like 말벗 malbeot “speech friend”, or a friend you can speak with, or 길벗 gilbeot “road friend”, or a friend you are journeying together with. But the forms using 동무 dongmu (말동무 maldongmu and 길동무 gildongmu) are more common, despite the use of the word dongmu by itself falling into disuse in the South due to its use as “comrade” in the North.

    Note that 친구 chin’gu, the usual word for “friend” in the South nowadays, is Sino-Korean 親舊, from a Literary Chinese expression meaning relatives and old friends (Korean is probably alone in this semantic shift; other languages in the Sinosphere use other terms for “friend”). I suspect however that the original word in Korean may have been 親故, pronounced 친고 chin’go, which went through the same sound change turning ㅗ o in non-initial syllables into ㅜ u that also turned Middle Korean 동모 dongmo into dongmu. The synonym 親舊 conveniently would have fit the resulting pronunciation chin’gu.

    Neither beot nor dongmu is Sino-Korean, which may have contributed to the commenter’s opinion that the former is “pretty informal” (the native Korean layer of vocabulary often feels more informal than the Sino-Korean layer). But the word is too old-fashioned for me to say anything about its formality.

    In one of my university classes there was one week where we covered North Korean literature, and nothing in the readings compelled me to seek out any of the works to read for pleasure. They sounded terrible as works of literature. Maybe I’ll give Friend a chance, but I still don’t think I’ll go out of the way to check it out.

  3. Thanks, I figured you’d have useful things to say!

  4. By the way, a translation into French by Patrick Maurus and Yang Jung-hee came out as Des Amis by Baek Nam-ryong in 2011, billed as the first North Korean novel translated into that language (see article in Le Monde).

    The earliest publication in South Korea that I can find was in 1992 by the publisher 살림터 Sallimteo, not that long after the 1988 publication of the original novel in the North. In 2018 it was republished in the South by the publisher 아시아 Asia specializing in Asian literature, which I find interesting—to South Korean readers, is North Korean literature part of Korean literature, Asian literature, or both?

  5. “Bud” is informal AmEng for friend and also used as a name or nickname in the southern US. I had a childhood friend called Bud in Baltimore in the 50s. Faulkner wrote about a character named Uncle Buddy in Go Down, Moses, set in about 1859.

  6. to South Korean readers, is North Korean literature part of Korean literature, Asian literature, or both?

    Good question! I’d guess the former (“part of Korean literature, but lousy” — compare the attitude of Russian exiles circa 1930-1960 to Soviet literature), but it would be good to hear from someone who knows.

  7. I think the vast majority of South Koreans haven’t had any exposure to post-WWII literature in Korean from outside of South Korea. This includes not just North Korean literature but also diaspora literature from China, Japan, the former Soviet Union, the US, and elsewhere. Such literature is practically unknown to most South Korean readers.

    So I can’t recall seeing any North Korean or diaspora Korean literature in Korean bookstores (though it is possible I have forgotten). My guess is that such books would still be found in the Korean literature section rather than Asian or world literature sections, and any adventurous reader who seeks out such literature would also consider it part of Korean literature, but seeing Beot published by a company specializing in Asian literature made me wonder.

  8. I think the vast majority of South Koreans haven’t had any exposure to post-WWII literature in Korean from outside of South Korea. This includes not just North Korean literature but also diaspora literature from China, Japan, the former Soviet Union, the US, and elsewhere. Such literature is practically unknown to most South Korean readers.

    Huh. I’d never have guessed that; I’d have supposed people would be interested in anything written in Korean. But I am completely ignorant about Korean culture, I’m afraid.

  9. There’s an interesting chapter on Soviet Korean literature in Songmoo Kho’s ‘Koreans in Soviet Central Asia’ (Helsinki, 1987). Kho, a South Korean, led an interesting life: he studied and worked in Finland for many years, became interested in the Koryo-saram (Soviet Koreans) and wrote the above-mentioned book about them, though he wasn’t allowed to visit Soviet Central Asia. He later (if I remember correctly) became a diplomat in Central Asia; he died in a car accident in Kazakhstan in 1993 at the age of 46.

  10. Interesting indeed. Same guy as this?

    Kho KKU = Songmoo Kho. Korean kielen ja uralilaisten kielten välinen etymologinen vertailu. Hs., 1973. Ms. [Etymological connections of Korean and Uralic].

  11. Undoubtedly! I didn’t know he’d written that. I’m not a believer in Altaic, let alone Ural-Altaic, but I’ve heard the Ural-Altaic theory is still being taught in South Korean schools. Can anybody confirm that?

  12. David Marjanović says

    I’d never have guessed that; I’d have supposed people would be interested in anything written in Korean.

    My guess is that the literature production of the *checks Wikipedia* 52 million people in South Korea simply outnumbers that from the diaspora by so much that the latter might as well not exist.

  13. I’d never have guessed that; I’d have supposed people would be interested in anything written in Korean.

    My guess is that the literature production of the *checks Wikipedia* 52 million people in South Korea simply outnumbers that from the diaspora by so much that the latter might as well not exist.

    I don’t think it’s that there is a lack of interest about the literary production of the diaspora. It’s that this tends not to be in Korean but in their local languages like English, Japanese, and Russian. Even in China where the Korean language tends to be used more than in other diaspora communities, the newer writers seem to be writing more and more in Chinese.

    Works by Mirok Li (Der Yalu fließt, Germany), Chang-Rae Lee (Native Speaker, U.S.), and Min Jin Lee (Pachinko, U.S.) have been quite successful in South Korea in translation. There is also enough interest that diaspora literature in Japanese (Miri Yu, Kazuki Kaneshiro) and Russian (Anatoli Kim) have been translated into Korean and published in South Korea. But I had to dig a bit to find an example of a diaspora work written in Korean and published in South Korea—a short story collection called 세상에 없는 나의 집 Sesang-e Eomneun Na-ui Jip (“My Home That is Not in the World”) by 금희 Geumhui, an ethnic Korean writer in China.

    There’s an interesting chapter on Soviet Korean literature in Songmoo Kho’s ‘Koreans in Soviet Central Asia’ (Helsinki, 1987). Kho, a South Korean, led an interesting life: he studied and worked in Finland for many years, became interested in the Koryo-saram (Soviet Koreans) and wrote the above-mentioned book about them, though he wasn’t allowed to visit Soviet Central Asia. He later (if I remember correctly) became a diplomat in Central Asia; he died in a car accident in Kazakhstan in 1993 at the age of 46.

    Kho’s work was an invaluable resource when I was doing some undergraduate research about ethnic Koreans in Ukraine back in 2004 (the Central Asian Koreans eventually established communities in other parts of the Soviet Union as well). He was a professor, not a diplomat; he established a Korean studies programme at the University of Helsinki, and moved to Almaty (then known as Alma-Ata) in 1991 to establish a Korean studies programme there.

    I’m not a believer in Altaic, let alone Ural-Altaic, but I’ve heard the Ural-Altaic theory is still being taught in South Korean schools. Can anybody confirm that?

    This indeed used to be the case a long time ago, but no more. According to this link in Korean, a textbook from 1948 states that Koreans are a Ural-Altaic people, more specifically Tungusic (language and ethnicity was/is often conflated). However, the third iteration of the national curriculum (1973–1981) drops the Ural- part and states that linguistically Korean is said to be a branch of Tungusic, itself a branch of Altaic. The sixth iteration (1992–1997) still stated that Korean was linguistically Altaic, but the seventh iteration (1997–2007) stepped back a bit and said merely that Korean was considered linguistically close to Altaic.

    Korean scholars have been moving away from the formerly established view that Korean was an Altaic language for a while now. Criticism of the view started appearing at least since the 1990s. Influential linguist Lee Ki-Moon who passed away in February was an Altaicist who devoted much effort to studying the Altaic connections of Korean, but supposedly you can see his view becoming more cautious from the first edition in 1961 of his seminal 국어사개설 國語史槪說 Gugeosa Gaeseol (“Introduction to the History of Korean”) to the 1972 revised edition and most recently in his 2011 English-language collaboration with S. Robert Ramsey, A History of the Korean Language, based on his earlier Korean-language work (even early on, he acknowledged that Korean is significantly more distant from the Altaic languages than the Altaic branches are to each other). Other Korean linguists have been more sceptical of an Altaic origin (or indeed the validity of Altaic as a language family).

    The problem is that it takes time for the academic consensus to percolate to the textbooks. Also, people learn from the textbooks when they are young and don’t usually get a chance to update that knowledge. I myself remember reading or being taught by my parents or teachers about Korean being a Ural-Altaic language when I was growing up, even though textbooks had removed the Ural- part by then. My memory is hazy, but it could even have been someone “expanding” on the textbook explanation by adding that Korean is Ural-Altaic, not just Altaic. It is, after all, a romantic notion that our language shares the same roots as distant Finnish or Hungarian, which might be why it is so persistent in the popular imagination. Most Koreans in their 30s and above still probably think of Korean as Ural-Altaic or at least Altaic because of this unless they have an interest in linguistics.

  14. David Marjanović says

    I didn’t know anyone had ever considered Korean Tungusic. It’s… manifestly not.

  15. I didn’t know anyone had ever considered Korean Tungusic. It’s… manifestly not.

    Maybe it was someone just looking at Manchu without realizing that it shows traces of Korean influence that is not detectable in other Tungusic languages.

  16. Bathrobe says

    The situation is slightly different in Mongolia/Inner Mongolia. Mongolians are by and large uninterested in literature from Inner Mongolia, although a few works do get transliterated, edited, and published. One problem is that China keeps tight control on literary production, possibly more so in ethnic languages than in Chinese, so there isn’t much good stuff published. Another is prejudice, the belief that Inner Mongolians are basically Chinese (or ‘half-breeds’, not true Mongols), so not worth reading. Yet another is a general lack of interest in the life of Mongols in Inner Mongolia. “Nothing to do with us”.

    There is probably somewhat greater interest in Mongolian literature in Inner Mongolia. Tungalag Tamir by Lodoidamba (from the 1970s) has been published in Inner Mongolia in a traditional script version and appears to be widely admired. I think The Old Man and the Sea as published in Inner Mongolia was also just a printing of the Mongolian translation.

    Wolf Totem was translated TWICE in Inner Mongolia, and yet the Mongolian translation was also published, slightly edited and converted into traditional script.

  17. SFReader says

    Wolf Totem is set in Inner Mongolia, but it is written by a Han Chinese writer in Chinese.

    It nevertheless attracted more interest in Mongolia than the entire authentic Inner Mongolian literature. Especially the movie was a great hit.

    In general, Mongolians read literature far less than South Koreans. Books are relatively expensive compared to incomes and the people are too practical to read books for amusement – bestselling titles in Mongolia are usually textbooks, manuals, dictionaries, self-help books and so on.

    A few fiction titles read tend to be translations of world classics or recent international bestsellers (especially if there was a Hollywood movie). And I suspect people buy them to brag they read it and impress friends with their sophistication and culture.

    To summarize, it is not common for Mongolians to read recent* Mongolian literature, let alone Inner Mongolian.

    * older Mongolian literature is diligently read by students – they have to or they will fail Mongolian literature class.

  18. Bathrobe says

    I agree that most Mongolians are not great readers. The country just seems to lack that addiction to reading that is (or was — the Internet has had an impact everywhere) so evident in Japan and urban China.

    Perhaps the reason is economic. I heard similar ideas from a bookseller in Vietnam a decade-and-a-half ago — the market for books is stunted because people are too poor to buy a lot of books.

  19. SFReader says

    It’s kind of hard to develop addiction to reading if a book costs 5 dollars and your monthly salary is 300 dollars.

  20. Thanks Jongseong, for that information. Kho’s book on the Soviet Koreans as well as his 1980 article on the history of Korean studies in Russia (1677-1930) can be downloaded on the site of the Finnish Oriental Society if anybody’s interested (nice biscuit conditional there…).

  21. SFReader says

    But Facebook and Twitter posts are free – Mongolians spend countless hours reading them.

    So perhaps not all is lost.

    Maybe we can call it modern oral literature (or perhaps folklore).

  22. There is this reference:

    김필영. 소비에트 중앙아시아 고려인 문학사
    (1937~1991).[A History of the Literature of Koreans in
    Soviet Central Asia from 1937 to 1991]. ]. 강남대출판
    부, 2004, 1060 pp.

    in a file in Russian (Герман Ким. Корейский театр как литературный Центр корейских драматургов, писателей и поэтов Советского Союза).

  23. It was only in the course of my research back in 2004 that I learned about Lenin Kichi and Korean-language literature from Soviet Central Asia. It’s something most South Koreans have never heard about. Before 1991, it was nearly impossible for ordinary South Koreans to get any information from the Soviet Union—the aforementioned linguist Lee Ki-Moon has recounted the difficulties he faced in researching Altaic languages because of this.

    It is notable that Phil Kim (김필영 Gim Pil-yeong), the author in the reference given by juha, studied in France and is a naturalized citizen. He also set up Korean studies in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, apparently inspired by his friend Songmoo Kho. It makes sense that Europe-based researchers were the ones finding out about the Soviet Koreans during the Cold War. With the end of the Cold War, I remember that the South Korean public suddenly discovered these forgotten kin and there was a surge in interest about their history as well as more recent icons like Viktor Tsoi, though it obviously didn’t extend to the Korean-language literature they produced.

  24. Thanks Jongseong, for that information.

    Seconded — what great comments!

  25. I remember the name Угай Дегук (우제국)—who wrote in Korean—for some reason, but am unable to find anything written by him.
    I don’t think the flatfish in the title of a fable of his—How the Fish Taught the Flatfish a Lesson (Как рыбы проучили камбалу)—was anything resembling kampela (or 平目 hirame or 鰈 karei for that matter), speaking of Ural-Altaic roots…

    (starting with:)

    Так произошло со стихами корейского поэта и честнейшего человека Угая Дегука. Переведя добросовестно его сборник стихов и, прежде чем поставить точку под рукописью, М. Ушаков в сердцах на полях оставил лаконичный фард:
    Переводить Дегука
    Сплошная мука.
    Но переводы самому автору оригиналов весьма понравились. Угай Дегук, как всегда, по-восточному загадочно откоментировал свои чувства: «Корейцы говорят: «Вяленая рыба и женщина становятся лучше после того, как их поколотят».
    Прочитав первый сборник стихов поэта Бориса Пака «Ты по звёздам идёшь», Ушаков, естественно, и тут не смог промолчать:
    У попа была собака,
    Он её любил.
    Прочитала она Пака,
    Он её убил.
    После этой эпиграммы Пак за версту обходил Ушакова.

    Эпиграммы ташкентских поэтов

  26. SFReader says

    The only Soviet Korean writer I know was this mysterious personКим,_Роман_Николаевич

    Though his ethnicity as a Korean might still be suspect – there is a conspiracy theory that he actually might have been a Japanese spy (and perhaps real life ninja) who infiltrated Soviet counter-intelligence in 1920s.

    Anyway, his main impact on Soviet literature was as a mentor and protector of Strugatsky brothers.

    Themes of alien espionage, counter-intelligence, Island Empire and secret agents are pervasive in Strugatsky brothers novels and very likely it was under influence of Roman Kim, international man of mystery.

  27. Fascinating — I didn’t know that!

  28. Wow. I don’t remember hearing about him before, but it sounds like Roman Kim had a truly fascinating life. Born in Vladivostok to a Korean anti-Japanese émigré, sent to Japan to spend his childhood so he could learn about the enemy, allegedly recalled to Russia by his father in 1917 in the midst of a revolution because he was considering being adopted by a Japanese family and growing too close to the enemy nation, taught and translated from Japanese to Russian, worked as a secret officer in some capacity, participated in the Spanish Civil War, was purged and sent to the Gulag but then was sent to fight in Berlin, turned to writing mystery and spy novels after the War…

    For the record, his Korean name was 김기룡 金夔龍 Gim Gi-ryong, which was originally rendered in Japanese as Kin Kiryu, though now he is usually known by his Russian name Kim Roman in both Korean and Japanese (with surname given first as you would expect in these languages). He corresponded with Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Ranpo, but doesn’t seem to be that well known in Japan either.

  29. Now, there’s a guy crying out for a well-done biography.

  30. (He hasn’t even got a Korean Wikipedia article!)

  31. SFReader says

    The recent conspiracy theory on identity of Roman Kim is based on his 1937 arrest and conviction as a Japanese spy.

    It was the time of great purge, everybody was accused of being a spy of one country or another and standard fate of a purged NKVD officer in 1937 was arrest, tortured confession of espionage, conviction by special tribunal and execution (very rarely GULAG).

    Roman Kim managed to avoid this fate by writing an extraordinarily convincing confession that persuaded his interrogators, NKVD leadership and comrade Stalin personally that unlike thousands of other victims of the purge, he actually was, indeed, a cadre Japanese intelligence officer, ethnic Japanese born in Japan who successfully managed to infiltrate Soviet counter-intelligence branch masquerading as a Russian Korean.

    Real captured Japanese intelligence officer was too useful to shoot, so he spent wartime years working for NKVD as a kind of consultant on Japanese intelligence. For his services, he was released after war and later exonerated.

    Who he was in reality, nobody knows. Maybe he invented his tale to save himself from execution, maybe it was truth.

    Very fitting for the first Russian translator of

  32. Great heavens! What an interesting and mysterious fellow. Some dogged biographer should have tackled him decades ago, tracked down people who knew him; it’s doubtless too late now.

  33. His story gets better and better! There is apparently a Russian-language biography of him by Aleksandr Kulanov published in 2016. In Japan, Hiroshi Kimura (木村 浩) wrote an article about the mystery of his life in the monthly magazine Bungeishunjū (文藝春秋) that was published back in 1984. The little info I was able to find in Korean about Roman Kim seems to owe much to this article.

  34. SFReader says

    I have Kulanov’s book on fate of Japan studies in the USSR which has a chapter on Kim.

    The chapter is titled “Roman Kim – ninja from Lubyanka*”

    *address of the headquarters of the KGB in Moscow.

    Kulanov presents 4 versions of his biography:

    1) official Soviet biography (ethnic Korean born in Russia, purged NKVD intelligence officer, later writer of mystery and spy thrillers)

    2) official KGB biography based on 1937 arrest case (ethnic Japanese born in Japan, real name Kingo Motono, bastard son of Viscount Itchiro Motono, Cabinet Minister and diplomat in Meiji era, cadre Japanese intelligence officer sent to Russia with a mission to infiltrate Soviet intelligence services)

    3) unofficial biography based on what he told his family and friends (ethnic Korean from noble Korean family which immigrated to Russia’s Far East in early 1900s, family was rich and lived on interest from account in the Russian-Asiatic Bank in Vladivostok, he was later adopted by Japanese industrialist Sugiura Ryukiti under name Kinji, studied in elite school in Tokyo, then returned in early 1920s to Russia to finish his education in Orientalist University in Japanese occupied Vladivostok)

    4) Japanese version of his biography (there are apparently researchers in Japan very interested in his life) – ethnic Korean from a noble family, his father was a Korean patriot and politician of anti-Japanese orientation, fled to Russia after it became clear that Korea will fall under Japanese influence. His mother graduated Catholic school in Beijing, spoke excellent French. In 1906, Kim’s father, Korean patriot who later would become part of the revolutionary cell which assassinated Japanese Prime Minister Ito in 1909, developed a plan to turn his 7 year old son into a life-long spy who would inflitrate Japan’s ruling circles, reach great positions of influence and secretly work for liberation of Korea. For this purpose, he enrolled young Kim into Japanese school in Vladivostok, later arranged his subsequent education in elite Tokyo college via rich Japanese industrialist Sugiura Ryukiti who sent him to his relative Sugiura Jyugo (1854-1924), Japanese philosopher, scholar and educator, teacher of the crown prince Hirohito, future emperor. Kim left school in Tokyo for unknown reasons and returned to Russia and his father’s secret plan apparently failed.

    Kulanov ends his chapter by analysis of Roman Kim’s thrillers – says they look more like an attempt to send some coded messages in a text than real works of literature. Particularly interesting is a thriller about spy school in Japan of 1930s which author claims was a continuation of medieval ninja tradition.

    We may never know who he was.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    There is a certain horrifying beauty in the idea that, if being tortured to extract a false confession of being a foreign agent so that you could be shot, your only hope was to convince the interrogators against their better judgment that the false charge was in fact true.

    I suppose it would have helped that the interrogators would have had little experience with extracting reliable information, as that was not their actual remit. They’d have been out of their depth.

  36. SFReader says


    Roman Kim, whoever he was in reality, probably was the only person in the USSR who spoke fluent Japanese AND fluent Russian AND had university education both in Japan and Russia AND experience of working both for the Soviet AND Japanese secret services.

    Double or triple agent with unknown ultimate loyalties. (if I was writing a spy thriller, I would make him an undercover Korean patriot working against both Russia and Japan for a secret Korean revolutionary organization – predecessor of North Korean intelligence perhaps).

  37. John Cowan says

    a certain horrifying beauty

    See “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. This is a story about Douglas Quail, a “miserable little salaried employee” who has had a lifelong dream of going on a trip to Mars as a secret agent. Since he has no hope of going to Mars either in that role or any other, he goes to Rekal, a company that implants false memories with drugs and hypnosis: imaginary vacations a specialty. But when the technicians go to implant the false memory in the clerk’s mind, they find that there’s no room for it, because …

    And since the story is by Philip K. Dick, that’s just the beginning of the wild ride. (Taxis usually talk in Dick’s stories, but rarely have anything helpful to say.)

    See also North by Northwest, which as it happens Gale and I re-watched last night. The main issue left hanging there is: Why does “Townsend” come to believe that Thornhill is “Kaplan”? The coincidence at the beginning is surely far too feeble for something “Townsend” is instantly and permanently committed to.

  38. SFReader says

    …. And there was a swarthy little fellow with coal-black hair and feminine-looking eyes like dark cherries, but with a broad, larger than usual nose that spoiled his whole face, turning it into a caricature. For a day he and I lay next to each other in silence, and on the second day he found occasion to ask me: “What do you think I am?” He spoke Russian correctly and fluently, but with an accent. I hesitated: there seemed to be something of Transcaucasia in him, Armenian presumably. He smiled: “I used to pass myself off very easily as a Georgian. My name was Yasha. Everyone laughed at me. I collected trade-union dues.” I looked him over. His was truly a comical figure: a half-pint, his face out of proportion, asymmetrical, his smile amiable. And then suddenly he tensed up, his features sharpened, his eyes narrowed and cut me like the stroke of a black saber.

    “I am an intelligence officer of the Rumanian General Staff! Lieutenant Vladimirescu!”

    I started—this was real dynamite. I had met a couple of hundred fabricated spies, and I had never thought I might meet up with a real one. I thought they didn’t exist.

    According to his story, he was of an aristocratic family. From the age of three he had been destined to serve on the General Staff. At six he had entered the intelligence service school. Growing up, he had picked his own field of future activity—the Soviet Union, taking into account that here in Russia the most relentless counterintelligence service in the world existed and that it was particularly difficult to work here because everyone suspected everyone else. And, he now concluded, he had worked here not at all badly. He had spent several prewar years in Nikolayev and, it appears, had arranged for the Rumanian armies to capture a shipyard intact. Subsequently he had been at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory, and after that at the Urals Heavy Machinery Factory..

    When he was arrested, he refused to give any testimony for eight whole months—imprisoned in the Butyrki, he uttered not one word. “And didn’t they torture you?” “No!” His lips twitched as though to indicate he didn’t even consider such a thing possible in the case of a non-Soviet citizen. (…a real spy’s a gold mine! After all, we may have to use him for an exchange.) The day came when they showed him the newspapers: Rumania had capitulated; come on, now, testify. He continued to keep silent: the newspapers could have been forgeries. They showed him an order of the Rumanian General Staff: under the conditions of the armistice the General Staff ordered all its intelligence agents to cease operations and surrender. He continued to keep silent. (The order could have been a forgery.) Finally he was confronted with his immediate superior on the General Staff, who ordered him to disclose his information and surrender. At this point Vladimirescu cold-bloodedly gave his testimony, and now, in the slow passing of the cell day, it was no longer of any importance and he told me some of it too. They had not even tried him! They had not even given him a sentence! (…“I am a career man—and will remain one until I die. And they won’t waste me.”)…

    In this whole long prisoners’ chronicle, we will not again meet such a hero. It was the only encounter of the sort I ever had in my eleven years of prison, camp, and exile, and others didn’t even have one. (c) The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  39. Original Russian:

    И ко мне придвинулся смуглый человечек со смоляными волосами, с женственными глазами – тёмными вишнями, однако с укрупненным расширенным носом, портившим всё лицо до каррикатуры. С ним рядом мы полежали сутки молча, на вторые у него был повод спросить: “За кого вы меня принимаете?” Говорил он по-русски свободно, правильно, но с акцентом. Я заколебался: было в нём и кавказское как будто, и как будто армянское. Он улыбнулся: “Я легко выдавал себя за грузина. Меня звали Яша. Все смеялись надо мной. Я собирал профсоюзные взносы.” Я оглядел его. Действительно комичная фигура: коротышка, лицо непропорциональное, беззлобная улыбка. И вдруг он напрягся, черты его стали отточенными, глаза стянулись и как взмахом чёрной сабли полосанули меня:

    – А я – разведчик румынского генерального штаба! Лукоте’нант

    Я даже вздрогнул, такой мне послышался динамит. Перезнакомившись с двумя сотнями лжешпионов, я никак не предполагал встретить настоящего, и думал их не существует.

    По его рассказу происходил он из аристократической семьи. С трехлетнего возраста уже был предназначен для генштаба, с шести лет его отдали на воспитание в разведывательный отдел. Взрослея, он выбрал себе полем будущей деятельности – Советский Союз, считая, что здесь и самая непреклонная в мире контрразведка и особенно трудно работать из-за того, что все подозревают друг друга. Теперь он заключал, что поработал здесь неплохо. Несколько предвоенных лет – в Николаеве и, кажется, обеспечил румынским войскам захват судостроительного завода в целости. Потом он был на тракторном заводе в Сталинграде, потом на Уралмашзаводе. За профсоюзными взносами он вошел в кабинет начальника крупного цеха, притворил за собой дверь, и улыбка дурачка сошла с его губ, опять появилось вот это сабельное режущее выражение: “Пономарев! (тот звался на Уралмаше иначе). Мы следим за вами от Сталинграда. Вы бросили там свой пост (он что-то крупное был на Сталинградском тракторном), под чужим именем устроились сюда. Выбирайте – расстрел от своих или работу с нами”. Пономарев выбрал работу с ними, и это очень похоже на преуспевающего хряка. Лукотенант руководил им, пока не был переподчинён немецкому резиденту в Москве, тот послал его в Подольск ПО СПЕЦИАЛЬНОСТИ. Как объяснял Владимиреску, диверсантов-разведчиков готовят разносторонне, но у каждого есть еще и своя УЗКАЯ специальность. Такой специальностью Владимиреску была внутренняя подрезка главного стропа парашюта. В Подольске перед складом парашютов его встретил начальник караула и (кто это? что это был за человек?) пропустил Лукотенанта в склад на восемь ночных часов. Приставляя лестничку к штабелям парашютов, не нарушая их укладки, Владимиреску раздвигал оплётку главного стропа, специальными ножницами перерезал четыре пятых части толщины, оставляя одну пятую, чтобы она лопнула в воздухе. Много лет Владимиреску учился и готовился к одной этой ночи. Теперь, лихорадочно работая, он за восемь часов испортил будто бы до двух тысяч парашютов (по пятнадцать секунд на парашют?). “Я уничтожил советскую парашютную дивизию!” – злорадно сверкал он глазами-вишнями.

    Арестованный, он отказался от показаний и восемь месяцев, сидя в бутырской одиночке, не проронил слова. “И вас не пытали??” – “Н-нет” подёрнул он губами, как бы не допуская такой возможности для не-советского подданного. (Бей своих, чтоб чужие боялись!.. А шпион – золотой фонд, его, может быть, обменивать придется.) Настал день, когда ему показали газеты: Румыния капитулировала, давайте показания. Он продолжал молчать: газеты могли быть поддельны. Ему дали прочесть приказ по румынскому генштабу: по условиям перемирия генштаб приказывал всем своим разведчикам разоружиться. Он продолжал молчать (приказ мог быть поддельным). Наконец ему дали очную ставку с его непосредственным начальником из генштаба, тот велел открыться и разоружиться. Тогда Владимиреску хладнокровно дал показания и теперь в медленном течении камерного дня всё равно уж кое-что рассказывал и мне. Его даже не судили! ему не дали срока! (ведь он не свой домашний! “Я кадровый до
    самой смерти, меня будут беречь.”)

    – Но вы мне открываетесь, – указал я. – Глядя на ваше лицо, я могу его запомнить. Вообразите, что когда-нибудь мы встречаемся с вами на улице…

    – Если я буду уверен, что вы меня не узнали – вы останетесь живы. Если узнаете – я вас убью, или заставлю работать у нас.

    Он совсем не хотел портить отношений с соседом по нарам. Он сказал это просто, вполне убежденно. Я поверил, что ему ничего не стоило бы пристрелить или зарезать.

    Во всей этой длинной арестантской летописи больше не встретится такого героя. За одиннадцать лет тюрем, лагерей и ссылки единственная такая встреча
    у меня и была, а у других и одной-то не было.

  40. The Romanian word is actually locotenent, though Лукоте’нант suggests “lucotenant.”

  41. John Cowan says

    Borrowed from Italian luogotenente, itself calqued from French, says Wikt. It also says there is a direct Fr > Ro calque locțiitor; locțiitor is not defined, but this Romanian dictionary gives its first definition as concubină. Semantic driftwood again.

  42. Rodger C says


    The King of the Wood?

  43. SFReader says

    location tenant

  44. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Bandi’s The Accusation .

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