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.