The author of “The Orphan Master’s Son”, Adam Johnson is Associate Professor of English at Stanford University with emphasis in creative writing . A Whiting Writers’ Award winner, his fiction has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, Playboy, Paris Review, Granta, Tin House and Best American Short Stories. He is the author of Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us, which won a California Book Award.
His novel The Orphan Master’s Son was published in 2012 by Random House and has just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for 2013.
His books have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, Catalan, German, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese and Serbian.Johnson is a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Johnson was a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.
He teaches Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, The Novel Salon and The Graphic Novel.
“The Orphan Master’s Son,” is San Francisco author Adam Johnson’s searing fictionalized account of life in North Korea and has been called the “1984″ of our era garnering critical raves. Find out how Johnson, the director of Stanford University’s acclaimed Creative Writing program, penetrated the veil of secrecy that enshrouds this tragic land to bring the country and its people into blazing light.
Over the past few months, North Korea has hosted a surreal basketball “diplomacy” trip with Dennis Rodman, threatened war and held celebrations with flowers, missiles and music. But very few have an inkling of what the Hermit Kingdom is really like from the inside.
Stanford University professor of English Adam Johnson has made a very ambitious attempt to answer that question in his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction earlier this week. After an absence last year, literature buffs breathed a collective sigh of relief to see the award return this year. Previous winners include Nobel laureates Ernest Hemmingway (The Old Man and the Sea), John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) and Toni Morrison (Beloved).
Johnson’s book has won near universal acclaim among critics, being called “exceedingly readable” in a review by The New York Times, which took home several Pulitzers of its own. The Guardian also published a rave review of the book, comparing it to 1984 and Brave New World, in which the writer said that Johnson “managed to capture the atmosphere of this hermit kingdom better than any writer I’ve read.”
Pulling off this level of believability and eliciting such praise was no simple task for Johnson. In the process of writing the book, he made a closely chaperoned visit to the reclusive state and did copious research, devouring history books, propaganda and the testimonials of defectors. “Once I started reading these stories, everything changed,” Johnson said of his investigations during a talk for Stanford’s “How I Write” lecture series. “There was a weight of them in me … They were real people.”
When the research could go no further, Johnson let his mind’s eye take the wheel in a process that he describes as “extending my imagination as far as I trusted and then going back to the sources.”
The result is the story of a young man named Jun Do (a Korean “John Doe”) who lives under the reign of Kim Jong-Il. Throughout Jun’s journey, he finds himself working in the worst possible jobs: tunnel soldier, kidnapper, naval spy, before ultimately ending up in Prison 33.
One passage of the best-selling tome reads: “Inside, I’m assaulted by the evening propaganda broadcasts coming over the apartment’s hardwired loudspeaker. There’s one in every apartment and factory floor in Pyongyang.”
Another: “Real stories like this, human ones, could get you sent to prison, and it didn’t matter what they were about. It didn’t matter if the story was about an old woman or a squid attack—if it diverted emotion from the Dear Leader, it was dangerous.”
Writing a book about a country about which we know so little raises many questions about accurately portraying life under such menacing conditions. Andray Abrahamian, Executive Director of the Choson Exchange, a Singaporean NGO that promotes business development for young North Koreans, has been to the North nine times since 2010. The Choson Exchange team has been a combined total of 25 times since 2009. Yet, he feels that the place remains an enigma.
Through the course of actually working – not only traveling – to the North, “we get a chance to really meet people, talk with them and get to know them,” Abrahamian told The Diplomat. “That is also possible on tours, but is tough if you don’t speak Korean.”
Imperfect they may be, but Abrahamian still vouches for tours to North Korea as a means of getting some grasp on the realities of life in the country.
“There is certainly value to seeing it first hand after reading about it, even if it serves to confirm your preconceptions,” he said. “I can do a ton of research on chocolate cake and be quite certain I know how it tastes, but it isn’t the same kind of knowing as actually eating one.”
Abrahamian continues, “That doesn’t mean that there is one true way of knowing North Korea, but certainly my understanding of North Korea has been greatly enriched since I started going. This doesn’t mean by any stretch I’ve seen the totality of life there, but when and where do you ever?”
Johnson is also keenly aware of this predicament, but was driven to push on despite gaps in his knowledge. The point of a fictional account is not to create a facsimile of life anyway, but to grasp its essence. In other words, there is truth and then there is Truth.
“One of the things I discovered through my research is that most North Koreans can’t tell their story,” Johnson said. “It’s important for others to hear it, though. So I had a sense of mission to speak about the topic.”
He added, “It’s an unverifiable place. But to the fiction writer, the myth, the legend, the fables are all powerful tools to create a psychological portrait.”
-Jonathan DeHart, Asian Life.
” Tim Kang’s quietly underplayed narration offers a grim picture of Jun Do’s life as the Orphan Master’s son, who must be ruthless to survive. Josiah Lee and James Kyson Lee round out the narration, capturing the series of horrific government-sanctioned tasks, the unrelenting drabness of daily life, and the “doublespeak” absurdities of loudspeaker news broadcasts. Watch Tim Kang recording on YouTube.
Gillian Flynn was born in Kansas City Missouri, February 24, 1971, to two community-college professors—her mother taught reading; her father, film. She received a B.A. from University of Kansas and an M.A. from Northwest University.
She was Entertainment Weekly’s TV critic until late in 2009 but now is a full-time novelist, which she says is pretty awesome. Gone Girl is her third book after Dark Places and Sharp Objects. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Brett Nolan and their son.
Flynn’s 2006 debut novel, the literary mystery Sharp Objects, was an Edgar Award finalist and the winner of two of Britain’s Dagger Awards—the first book ever to win multiple Daggers in one year. Flynn’s second novel Dark Places, was a New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite, Weekend TODAY Top Summer Read, Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction choice.
The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
Esquire – Every woman you know has read Gone Girl, As a cultural phenomenon, it’s Fifty Shades of Grey for women we and you would actually date, but without the sad sex. It’s written by a woman. The novel’s male protagonist is a recognizable, believable man. He’s got a lot of the faults we recognize in ourselves and a few big flaws we’re happy to have avoided. The female protagonist is a little too pat to be true, and — take heed — you are gonna be annoyed by this fking book by the time you hit the halfway point. You’re going to want to walk away. You’re going to ask your wife/girlfriend what the hell she was talking about. But then something good happens. We wish we could provide a summary so you could just skip to part two, but part one is the price you pay. Really. You can trust us. Read it. There’s no good guy (or girl) in this book, no one to root for, and no happily ever after. How many books can you say that about?
The audio book is well produced with an almost must pairing of narrators,Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne, with the main protagonists. The result is near perfect. This is a must listen for anyone who is attracted to the psychological thriller genre. We rate it 5 Stars.
About the Author
Haruki Murakami, born January 12, 1949, is a Japanese writer and translator. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered him critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize and Jerusalem Prize among others.
Murakami’s fiction, often criticized by Japan’s literary establishment, is humorous and surreal, and at the same time focuses on themes of alienation and loneliness. Through his work, he is able to capture the spiritual emptiness of his generation and explore the negative effects of Japan’s work-dominated mentality. His writing criticizes the decline in human values and a loss of connection among people in Japan’s society.
He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature. The Guardian praised him as “among the world’s greatest living novelists” for his works and achievements.
Audio Book Bibliography
1Q84 UNABRIDGED Narrated by Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, Mark Boyett 46.8 hrs
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle UNABRIDGED Narrated by Rupert Degas 26.1 hrs
Norwegian Wood UNABRIDGED Narrated by James Yaegashi 13.5 hrs
Kafka on the Shore UNABRIDGED Narrated by Sean Barrett, Oliver Le Sueur 19.13 hrs
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World UNABRIDGED Narrated by Adam Sims, Ian Porter 14 hrs
What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: A Memoir UNABRIDGED Narrated by Ray Porter 4.5 hrs
Dance, Dance, Dance UNABRIDGED Narrated by Rupert Degas 12.7 hrs
A Wild Sheep Chase UNABRIDGED Narrated by Rupert Degas 9.6 hrs
After Dark UNABRIDGED Narrated by Janet Song 5.7 hrs
The Elephant Vanishes: Stories UNABRIDGED Narrated by John Chancer 10.5 hrs
After the Quake UNABRIDGED Narrated by Rupert Degas, Teresa Gallagher, Adam Sims 4.3 hrs
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman UNABRIDGED Narrated by Patrick Lawlor, Ellen Archer 12.7 hrs
The English-language publication of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 has been called by some the most anticipated literary event of 2011. The book is a massive 962 page compilation of the Japanese three volume trilogy which achieved tremendous popularity in Japan. The book was translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. The audio book is a very long 46 hours and 50 minutes, making it among the longest audio books published. The audio book was published by Audible Inc. and was narrated by Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor and Mark Boyett.
Murakami writes in a magical realism genre that is his signature style. 1Q84 differs from many of his books by shifting from his usual first-person narration. Most reviews of this book are positive, however a few complain of the length and slowness of the plot, even calling it tedious. It is hard to write a very long book without creating intricate detail which some would see as an enhancing rich texture. The real issue of course with audio books, does the narration hold your interest. Nothing is worse than listening to tedious detail that is boring. This audio book is not boring and you will not be relieved when you finish listening to it. It is characteristic of magical realism that unusual, unexpected, and unbelievable events occur in what otherwise seems a rational real-world story. You will find much of this in 1Q84, as usual with Murakami. Listening to 1Q84 is like eating a luxurious 10 course meal, set back and enjoy it. For those that like fast-food books look elsewhere.
The story has two protagonists, Aomame and Tengo who are the main focus of what is essentially a love story, which emerges rather slowly and does not become fully realized until the end of the book. Aomame is a physical therapist/assassin and Tengo a math tutor/budding writer. Add to this a beautiful mysterious 17 year old autistic other-worldly girl, a dangerous religious sect and an altered reality with two moons and the “little people” and you have the main elements of this complex storyline. Aomame is narrated by Allison Hiroto and Tengo by Marc Vietor. This braided narration of Aomame’s and Tengo’s stories works well. Other background narration is by Mark Boyett.
The Audible Publisher’s Summary:
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 – “Q” is for “question mark”. A world that bears a question.
Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s, 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
About the Author
Paul Murray (born 1975) is an Irish novelist. He studied English literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and subsequently completed his Masters in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Murray has written two novels: his first, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 2003 and nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award. His second novel Skippy Dies was long listed for the 2010 Booker Prize and the 2010 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award for comic fiction. It also is on Time Magazine’s List of Top 10 Novels of 2010, see TekRead Famous Book Lists
Nicola Barber , Fred Berman , Clodagh Bowyer , Terry Donnelly , Sean Gormley , Khristine Hvam , John Keating , Lawrence Lowry , Graeme Malcolm , Paul Nugent
Summary from the Sunday Times by Adam Lively
The publisher’s summary of Skippy Dies warns of a dark comedy with supernatural overtones about a group of boarding-school boys, interwoven with the hapless romantic adventures of an emotionally inadequate history master. It sounds as though we are being invited into stereotyped fictional territory. But, in fact, the novel is a triumph — it is maybe too long and suffers in places from unoriginality, but it is also brimful of wit, narrative energy and a real poetry and vision. In the boys, especially, Paul Murray proves that he can conjure up a whole psychic world, from its darkest, most savagely funny cruelty to its wildest flights of fantasy-fuelled innocence.
The novel is set in an arch-traditionalist school in Dublin’s posh suburbs, and at the heart of the story is 14-year-old Ruprecht Van Doren (“Van Blowjob”) — mathematical genius, French horn player and devoted online acolyte of a Stanford professor whose new version of String Theory seems to hold out an enticing prospect: access to the 11th dimension. Ruprecht’s best friend is Skippy, whose story is the blackest strand in the book: his mother is dying of cancer, the gym teacher has been touching him up and, worst of all, he has fallen self-destructively in love with the man-eater-in-training at the neighbouring girls’ school. When Skippy dies of an overdose (during a doughnut-eating competition), the comedy of Ruprecht’s earnestly crazy science experiments in the school basement turns to poignant tragedy, as he cranks his tinfoil contraption for one last attempt to reach his lost friend through “the veil”.
Parallel to Skippy’s tragic opera is the bathetic cautionary tale of the history teacher Howard (“Howard the Coward”), who pursues his own muse, his version of Robert Graves’s “White Goddess”, into a personal hell of middle-aged disillusion. Although Murray’s writing never lets up on its energy and invention (and though there is some wonderfully broad satire at the expense of the smoothly evil acting head, who plots the takeover of the school in the name of modernity and money), the “adult” portions of the book lack the freshness and vividness of those given to their pupils. We seem stuck firmly here in Amis-Lodge-Sharpe-Hornby land.
For all its English influences, Skippy Dies is set very firmly in Ireland. In an interview, Murray has hinted that the satire on the traditional school ruined by cynical modernisers is written with half an eye to Ireland’s breakneck economic boom and subsequent collapse. Those broader resonances may be there for the author, but what I think most readers will take away from the book is the unflagging entertainment of its intelligence, its psychological insight and its range of reference.
A brief summary can’t do justice to the variety of themes that Murray tosses about — cosmology, the first world war, role-playing computer games, prehistoric portals to fairy kingdoms etc. — or the skill with which he connects them up, as in the beautiful moment when (for reasons too complicated and zany to explain) Ruprecht and friends do the long-dreamt-of thing and break into the girls’ school next door. They find the same landscape of dormitories and teenage mess as in their own world, except that it is all, well, different — and for a glorious moment they think that they might actually have entered the 11th dimension.
Most of all, though, what readers will take away is the laugh-out-loud hilarity of some of the boys’ dialogue, as in the neat deconstruction by one of them of Robert Frost’s The Road Less Travelled, proving once and for all that it is a poem about anal sex.
Audible listeners rated this audio book at 3.61 with 124 ratings. This is a very polarizing novel.
You either loved it or hated it. This is demonstrated by the audible reviews 1 or 2 stars if you didn’t like it or the 4 or 5 stars if you did. There are 13 positive reviews and 16 negative.
This is a long audio book some 23 hours and 36 minutes long. As stated above you will probably love or hate the book. The book is very well written with excellent characterization and plotting. It is an innovative tragicomedy, intricate and interesting.
The audio book production is good. The choice of many narrators is unusual and works well to enhance the audio book with one exception. Sometimes the many narrators make it difficult to know who is speaking. Overall it is well read.
We at TekRead fell into the “Love It” category knowing that not all of you will agree. It is a very literary work, but some may find the language too explicit. We feel the book would not work without the raw language that makes it so authentic.
Where to Get It
This audio book was published by Audible, Inc. and is not widely available outside Audible channels, notably Audible.com and iTunes. The buy links are shown below along with the Audible summary and audio sample. The audio book is discounted to $20.96 for current audible subscribers.