There are so many books I have to read–for work, research, reviewing–that I tend to get a lot of extracurricular works on the fly, in audio form, that is, taken in while I walk or run or drive (or putter around the garden), and this is how I encountered Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, which was so good it disrupted all those desultory tasks that it was supposed to accompany.
In a world where literary miracles are as rare as . . . miracles, this book is one, a wonder of storytelling that conjures the strangeness of North Korea in a way that is utterly believably foreign and yet just as believably human and familiar. Most interesting and unusual is the character at the center of the story, in whom Johnson manages to convey the mystery of a personality formed in the crucible of perfect arbitrariness that is the North Korea of the novel. There is no logic here except a lack of logic, and yet Johnson ekes meaning out of it. And, in a narrative structure that’s inventive and involuted, he creates irresistible suspense.
All this, and I’ve only listened to the book, distracted at every turn, though soon I will be able to appreciate it to the fullest–when the ordered copy turns up in the mail. And when I rhapsodized about this novel to a friend, book editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune (who recommended the book at least a year ago), she informed me that Johnson has a collection of stories coming out any minute now.