Read Adam Johnson's nine short stories in 'Emporium' (2002) and enjoyed that. However I resisted reading his 'The Orphan Master's Son' (2012) for the longest time. With a huge dose of skepticism, I finally opened it. At least the author has taken one trip to North Korea, one more than I have. Heh. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)
I like the author's narrative style and use of the language. In two parts titled 'The Biography of Jun Do' and 'The Confessions of Commander Ga', the book takes readers through protagonist Pak Jun Do's growing up years in a state orphanage Long Tomorrows because his cruel father is its director, his subsequent life in service to the state and its subversive activities.
Of course there's a bizarre trip to Texas where Jun Do was part of an unsuccessful unexplained mission. He subsequently escapes prison and impersonates Commander Ga, whom he may or may not have killed. He also moves into the house as Commander Ga, taking over this life with a wife, famous actress in the capital Sun Moon and her children. Then the story ends in the only way it could. Imprisonment, or death for Jun Do (as Ga), and a daring escape to America by Sun Moon orchestrated by Jun Do (as Ga).
Ga looked up to the jet trail overhead and followed it toward the horizon. A wave of satisfaction ran through him. A day wasn't just a match you struck after all the others had gone out. In a day, Sun Moon would be in America. Tomorrow would fnd her in a place where she could perform a song she'd waited a lifetime to sing. From now on, it would no longer be about survival and endurance. And this new day, they were embarking on it together.
Returning the Dear Leader's gaze, Ga felt no fear looking into the eyes of the man who would get the last word. In fact, Ga was oddly carefree. I'd have felt this my whole life, Ga thought, if you had never existed. Ga felt his own sense of purpose, he was under his own command now. What a strange, new feeling it was. Perhaps this was what Wanda had in mind when she stood before that expanse of Texas sky and asked if he felt free. It could be felt, he now knew. His fingers were buzzing with it, it rattled his breathing, it allowed him to suddenly see all the lives he might have lived, and that feeling didn't go away when Commander Park's men knocked him to the ground and dragged him by his heels toward a waiting crow.
There's this thing about 'realism' going on. After a while, I didn't care if the author meant the story to be set in North Korea. It could have been a dystopia in a parallel universe for all intent and purposes. It's this thing about the absurdity of life in a totalitarian state, which is honestly, not unlike some strange families in liberal democracies.
I'm also really curious as to how 'pumpkin rind soup' tastes like. This dish mentioned in the novel can't be referring to hobakjuk, can it?