The Orphan Master's Son
Monday, November 05, 2018
For my book group, I am reading The Orphan Master's Son, a 2012 Pulitzer prize winning novel about North Korean society by Adam Johnson, a teacher of creative writing at Stanford University.
Johnson claims he did a lot of research for the book - and that he had a source to verify the facts that he presents in the novel.
In this novel, there are few facts that actually exist for people; rather there are stories (lies) that are created to save people from punishment from the government.
I do not like the place this novel puts me in. I do not like the way that people's stories build upon each other over time, and how a person's story is more important than the person himself.
There is no way to know what is actually the truth -- what the facts are.
I am coming away from this novel, however, with an understanding of just how a society like this could operate. It is not a society where any of us would be comfortable living.
This novel makes the current political climate in the U.S. with claims of 'false news' seem like mere child's play -- almost innocent and harmless -- compared to the North Korean climate depicted in this book. In the U.S. today there are accusations and arguments from all sides. Everybody expresses their views publicly. People openly disagree and criticize their opponents. In this book's North Korea, there is only ONE story that gets told. All other versions are beaten out of people. People with the wrong version of the story (which may be the actual truth) are sent to prison camps -- or their families are sent in their place. Sometimes they are killed.
Also, most people's personal lives are very limited - geographically confined, occupationally narrowed, and personally restricted. They have few opportunities to pursue, and few choices to make for themselves; most aspects of their lives are determined for them.
This book has opened my eyes to what a restrictive totalitarian society might look like on the inside.
As usual with the books I read for the book group, I would never have chosen to read this on my own. And, even though I am about halfway through the book, I am still not enjoying it. This novel puts me in a very unpleasant place to be.
However, I am sure that the discussion with the book group later this week will enhance my understanding and my appreciation of this book.
It always does.