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The Orphan Master's Son

June 2014 book selection

The Orphan Master's Son

by Adam Johnson

May 27, 2014

I will admit, dear Capradio Readers, that this book is giving me a spot of trouble.  Not that I am not enjoying it.  Far from that.  It is that I am finding I must read every single word, and concentrate on them all, to get the full measure of Adam Johnson's writing.  I was prepared for some of the terrible conditions under which his characters live and work. I was NOT prepared to feel so much for those characters, both positive and negative, and sometimes both for the same character.  I believe I am falling for a little bit of the very propaganda I was so sure I would be immune to.

I am also sometimes bothered, sometimes revelling in, the multiple voices in this book. I realize there are times when I, as the reader, have been tricked.  Which story am I supposed to believe? Will I know, when the book is over, who is the bad guy? Is it all just a misunderstanding? As I get further along in the book, the characters actually seem less real to me, but I wonder if that is just another of the author's tricks.

However this turns out, reading Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, has been an experience.  I am more than usually interested in what you will say about it when we meet on Tuesday, June 10 in The Community Room.  Have your opinions ready!

May 20, 2014

As we delve further into The Orphan Master's Son, a novel about North Korea by Adam Johnson, we are learning more about what life is like in this repressive place.  Johnson set his book to begin in the countryside, far away from the capital city of Pyongyang.  After some research, I have learned that living in the capital is only for the elite, and it is something every Korean strives for.  The farther away from the capital, the more difficult life is, and this is true for Jun Do. 

After the orphanage is devastated by famine, Jun Do (is he really John Doe?) is conscripted into the army. He learns English and starts a career as a translator for foreign radio transmissions.  One more interesting fact about North Korea here: Radios come without a dial. Who needs a dial when all you really want to listen to, I'm sure, is The Dear Leader? 

In the process of reading this fascinating work of fiction, keep in mind how the book came to be.  Adam Johnson did extensive research, and he actually visited North Korea.  He spoke to many people who had escaped and were now living in South Korea or the West.  In North Korea, he could not speak privately to anyone, fearing what would happen to them after he left. Speaking to people who had escaped was interesting and illuminating, but only useful for this amazing work of literary fiction, as their words are unverifiable.  Never the less, their words are woven into our story and serve to illuminate a very dark part of the world. 

I hope you are enjoying the book. I can only imagine the conversation we will have when we have all finished reading.  See you on June 10, at 6:30 p.m. in our Community Room for our next Face To Face.

May 13, 2014

The punishment for rebellion in North Korea is death, but sometimes just trying to live in North Korea is worse than that punishment.  Our June selection, The Orphan Master's Sonby Adam Johnson, tells the story of two North Korean men who rebel against the country's hateful and tyrannical government. 

Although fiction, the book gives a glimpse into this oppressed country, while relating the story of the two main characters and their familiies.  Johnson won The Pulitzer Prize for this towering work of fiction.

I think you will enjoy reading the book, and it will certainly encourage more research and discussion about a country cloaked in mystery.

Please join us on Tuesday, June 10, for our evening of converation in The Community Room at Capital Public Radio.

As always, thanks for reading.