Korean War literature has historically encompassed a wide range of ideologically disparate texts. If canonical works of literary fiction have critically interrogated the violence of war and division, the civil war itself has continued to generate institutionalized cultural production purporting to document the crimes of the other side. Working against the categorical separation of these two traditions, this article explores their mutual and intertextual constitution. The sponsorship and commercialization of North Korean defector memoirs (kwisunja sugi) in 1960s South Korea, the article shows, influenced the development of two other popular genres of Korean War literature that alternately reinforced and undermined statist anticommunism. First, the novelist Yi Pyŏngju (1921–1992) employed kwisunja sugi as historical records in his works of the 1960s and 1970s, even as he demonstrated an awareness of the historicity and duplicity of Cold War testimony. Second, while autobiographical essays (ch’ehŏm sugi) submitted to the amateur nonfiction contest (1965–80) of the monthly Sin tonga mimicked kwisunja sugi, charting their authors’ immersion in and escape from the scene of communist violence, these texts also applied this structure to subaltern life in the militarized, capitalist South, reaffirming subversive understandings of the Korean Civil War as a reciprocal system.

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