By Admiral Fartmore
(book chosen by Beau Dashington)
Jackals, like any good anti-American propaganda, begins with an impoverished, studious young Korean boy (named Sugil) finding a ball in a ditch. Being generous, Sugil shares the ball with his friends and they have a good time playing with it. But little does he know, Simon – the son of American missionaries living in the village, and a spoiled, greedy little fuck – had actually thrown this ball out weeks ago. Simon arrives on scene and sees the local kids playing with his old ball. Incensed, he then punches Sugil in the face for playing with his trash. Simon walks off, leaving Sugil unconscious on the ground, in a state of near-death after taking one punch from a 10 year old. Simon probably could have gone into boxing, if only he didn’t have a nerdy name like Simon.
So far the story is fairly realistic, if a bit childish. I mean, when I was a kid, I always played with stuff I’d found in the ditch. I was always virtuous and generous, and whenever the neighbourhood bully would pick on me, his name was always Simon. Okay, fine; it wasn’t Simon. Her name was Natasha. But regardless, for the first half, the story sounds like a pretty classic morality tale. It seems like the ball is being set up as some kind of metaphor, which is fine. Simple allegories are an effective way of communicating complex concepts, especially if you’re aiming at a wide audience. So far I think I can see where this is going.
Sugil is found and taken home to his mother, who is (of course) a widow. Since her son still hasn’t regained consciousness (seriously, Simon can throw a fucking punch), she goes and tells Simon’s parents what happened, and then makes plans to take Sugil to the hospital. Simon’s parents offer instead to secure a bed for free at the missionary hospital in order to make amends. Sugil’s mother clearly has no idea that she’s in an anti-American propaganda piece, because she agrees to send her son to the hospital. Once Sugil is admitted, the missionaries instruct the director of the hospital to kill the boy by injecting him with a deadly infectious disease and then burn his remains.
Okay, that was unexpected. Seems like a bit of a bit drastic resolution to a playground spat, but I mean, to be fair, it was Simon’s ball first. But seriously, there has to be some deeper motive for the missionaries to kill over. Holy shit. Is the ball God?
After going to the hospital and discovering that her son has been murdered, Sugil’s mother loses her shit, first yelling at the hospital staff, and then at the American missionaries. At this point she is arrested by a Japanese policeman (the story takes places circa 1930). While she is being hauled away, she remembers the lyrics of a Korean nationalist song, which brings her some comfort. The story ends.
These characters suck. Sugil’s mother, who doesn’t even have a name, is just a helpless victim. Guess what her only comfort is? Yup – her faith in Korea. Even when she’s ranting about her son’s murder, all she can really come up with to say is that “not all Koreans are dead.” I mean, yeah, nationalism always co-opts the suffering of individuals, but at least be subtle about it, Han. And there’s no ulterior motive for the Americans murdering her child; they just really wanted to cover up the ball-dispute. But I guess you can get away with this kind of laziness when you have a very literally captive audience.
The best part about this book is the narrator, who seems to hate the American family even more than Sugil’s mother herself. He refers to them exclusively as the jackal (the father) the vixen (the mother) and the wolfcub (Simon). He goes on long racist rants about their “sunken eyes, like open graves,” the father’s “spade-shaped eagle’s nose that hung villainously,” and the mother’s “fat, ghostly pale ass.” These descriptions hit a bizarre crescendo when the narrator tells us that “the vixen’s teats jutted out like the stomach of a snake that has just swallowed a demon.” Wow. A demon inside a snake inside a vixen: the turducken of tit descriptions. He also just routinely calls the American hospital director a bitch, which is less imaginative but still gets the message across. (She’s a bitch.)
This book is also pretty shit at being Soviet-state style propaganda, which is what I think Han was hired to write. Presenting modern hospitals as some kind of extermination camp is not a great message to send while your country is trying to modernize its healthcare system. Idealizing pastoral life doesn’t fit well with a drive to industrialize. Obsessing over race is weird if you are part of an international, class-based revolution. Venerating the weak, helpless widow who depends on men for everything doesn’t help on the gender equality front. And neither does constantly calling the hospital director a dumb bitch. Well, alright; maybe she was a bitch for murdering that kid. But it was Simon’s ball first.
This was very early North Korean propaganda, and from this starting point, quality-wise, you can kind of see how things eventually got to the ridiculous point they’re at today. The Americans murder a child in cold-blood because of a dispute over a ball. That is the story. I’m pretty confused as to how a man who conjured up the image of swollen-snake-belly-demon-titties couldn’t think of anything other than a fucking ball to pivot the story around. He doesn’t even say what kind of ball it is. It’s just ball. But nonetheless, this is (surprise) one of the most popular stories of all time in North Korea. Which begs the question, is shit still lucky if you’re force-fed it?
– Admiral Fartmore