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'Orphan': A New Novel Imagines Life In North Korea

by NPR Staff
Jan 8, 2012 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Adam Johnson is the prizewinning author of Emporium and Parasites Like Us. He teaches at Stanford University.

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When North Korean President Kim Jong Il died last month, media outlets around the world tried to cover the story with very few facts. That's because there really are no clear facts about North Korea. It's arguably the most closed society in the world — run as a hereditary fiefdom by a family of dictators.

We're now on the third generation of that family, the newly installed Kim Jong Un. Journalists and writers are rarely granted access to North Korea, and when they are, they're escorted by official minders and see mostly what the regime wants them to see — leaving a whole lot to the imagination.

That's where Adam Johnson comes in. His new novel is called The Orphan Master's Son. In it, Johnson uses his own imagination to reveal a more nuanced picture of what life for North Koreans may be like.

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