Adam Johnson recently released a fascinating novel about North Korea called The Orphan Master's Son, which I reviewed here in conjunction with his appearance at Powell's a couple weeks back. The Paris Review has a great interview with Johnson about how he researched the book, why irony doesn't exist in North Korea, and how The Orphan Master's Son isn't so different from the speculative fiction he began his career writing:
You’ve said elsewhere that a friend helped you gain access to North Korea for a government tour of the country. Who was the friend and how did he get you in?
My friend was part of an NGO planting apple orchards in North Korea. He also worked with orphanages in the South. He was originally from North Korea and was an orphan of the Korean War. He had good relations with both sides and had done nothing but humanitarian work for decades there, so he was trusted. He believed in my book and used his influence to help me.
What was your stated purpose for the visit?
There were four of us, and we were officially called VIP tourists. My friend was treated with great enthusiasm. I was just ignored, which was wonderful. I was looking for bits of verisimilitude and I was free to collect that. I wanted to know: Are there trashcans on the street? Are the streets concrete, pavement, or brick? Were there fire stations? Did people have mailboxes on their houses? What type of shoes did people wear?
The whole thing is worth a read. (As is The Orphan Master's Son, for that matter.)
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