Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson notes

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Wheeler Publishing—Large Print edition; 2012; 781 pages
ISBN: 978-141-448286

Part One: The Biography of Jun Do. Written in the third person.
Part Two: The Confessions of Commander Ga. Note plural. Three threads:
  • Interrogator No. 6
  • Written in the third person (as in Part One—possible, but unlikely, written by the interrogator)
  • Broadcasts from the North Korean government

Jun Do raised in an orphanage. Not an orphan. His mother a singer and “redirected”/”reassigned” to an official in Pyongyang. Father in charge at the Long Tomorrows orphanage. Jun Do (almost John Doe) has power over the other orphans in assignments, sleeping arrangements, etc.
Jun Do named after a martyr so everyone thinks he is an orphan. (511)”Pak Jun Do, who took his own life in a test of loyalty to our leaders.”
Initially works as a tunneler. Not afraid of the dark.
Then works as part of a kidnapping team sent to Japan, South Korea, etc.
Next trains as English translator. Assigned to a fishing boat to listen to transmissions.

(93): “Real stories, like this, human ones, could get you sent to prison...”
Jun Do has several opportunities to defect: during kidnapping trips, especially a particular trip to Japan; on the trawler when the U.S. stopped the boat; visit to Texas.

Fabricated stories to turn what really happened into something consistent with state propaganda/indoctrination. Covering for the Second Mate’s defection, Jun Do submits to being bitten by sharks. Becomes a hero. Captain believes Jun Do has filled the Second Mate’s head with thoughts.
Unspoken atrocities—such as what happened to the Canning Master.
(163): “There are no such things as facts.” (when noting that the facts don’t add up for the hero story)

Grass for Meat campaign—sod, then goats, put on roofs of buildings. Goats fall off the roofs as well as feed predatory birds. A program by that name existed but not in that format (?). Provides a comic moment when a goat falls off a roof and Jun Do’s car hits it. (Program, as described, is inconsistent with depiction of hunger in the novel—unguarded goats would quickly be stolen by NK citizens.)

Population led to believe there is a retirement community at Wonsan, while the reality is quite different.
Interrogators believe they need to hide their true selves from everyone, including their son. Talk about if they ever have to denounce him they will at least be holding his hand when doing so.

Before and after photos of prisoners. What is it with totalitarian regimes and obsessive documentation?

(502): Jun Do talking to Sun Moon about her movies:
“I find them inspiring. And your acting shows people that good can come from suffering, that it can be noble. That’s better than the truth.”
“Which is?”
“That there’s no point to it. It’s just a thing that sometimes has to be done and even if thirty thousand suffer with you, you suffer alone.”

Stigmas: orphans (ironic given the number of murders the government commits), dogs, black & white movies.
Prisons keep the prisoners on the edge of starvation. They can work but not think.

(523): “Ga thought of how difficult it was to come to see the lies you told yourself, the ones that allowed you to function and move forward.To really do it, you needed someone’s help.”

Pubyok: old-style interrogators. Page 554—how lobotomies used to be given.
Page 486: picture of Ingrid Bergman’s star
Page 587: picture of Sun Moon’s children

(684): Sun Moon’s “confession” (unburdening)
(696): Interrogator muses on memory vs. forgetting. Does he prefer forgetting? “Compared to forgetting, did living really stand a chance?”
(719): Interrogator talks about finally being intimate with his parents... in his act of killing them.

(720): “Trembling with hope” The interrogator’s hope exists only when he plans to obliterate his past/memory. His goal? Not to care (while remaining loyal).

(732): “[T]hey lived in a land where people had been trained to accept any reality presented to them. ... [T]here was only one penalty, the ultimate one, for questioning reality, how a citizen could fall into great jeopardy for simply noticing that realities had changed.”

(775): Commander Ga’s bust added to Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery: “[F]or generations of orphans to come will the name of both a hero and a martyr. Forever, Commander Ga Chol Chun. In this way, you’ll live foever.”

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