The Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

2013 - Adam Johnson

Born: 12 July 1967, South Dakota

Awarded for: "The Orphan Master's Son"

Prize motivation: "an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart. "

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Adam Johnson

About Adam Johnson

Johnson was born in South Dakota and raised in Arizona. He earned a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University in 1992; an MFA from the writing program at McNeese State University, where he was a classmate of the writer Neil Connelly, in 1996; and a PhD in English from Florida State University in 2000. Johnson is currently a San Francisco writer and associate professor in creative writing at Stanford University. He founded the Stanford Graphic Novel Project and was named "one of the nation's most influential and imaginative college professors" by Playboy Magazine.

Johnson is the author of the novel The Orphan Master's Son (2012), which Michiko Kakutani, writing in The New York Times, has called, "a daring and remarkable novel, a novel that not only opens a frightening window on the mysterious kingdom of North Korea, but one that also excavates the very meaning of love and sacrifice." Johnson's interest in the topic arose from his sensitivity to the language of propaganda, wherever it occurs. Johnson also wrote the short-story collection Emporium and the novel Parasites Like Us, which won a California Book Award in 2003. His work has been published in Esquire, Harper's Magazine, Tin House, and The Paris Review, as well as Best New American Voices and The Best American Short Stories.

Johnson's work has been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, German, Italian, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Catalan and Serbian and focuses on characters at the edge of society for whom isolation and disconnection are nearly permanent conditions. Michiko Kakutani described the central theme "running through his tales is also a melancholy melody of longing and loss: a Salingeresque sense of adolescent alienation and confusion, combined with an acute awareness of the randomness of life and the difficulty of making and sustaining connections." According to Daniel Mendelsohn, writing for New York Magazine, "Johnson's oh-so-slightly futuristic flights of fancy, his vaguely Blade Runner–esque visions of a cluttered, anaerobic American culture, illustrate something very real, very current: the way we must embrace the unknown, take risks, in order to give flavor and meaning to life." A strain of absurdity also runs through his work, causing it to be described as "a funky new science fiction that was part irony and part pure dread." "Teen Sniper" is about young sniper prodigy enlisted by the Palo Alto police department to suppress the disgruntled workers of Silicon Valley. "The Canadanaut" follows a remote team of Canadian weapons developers who race to beat the Americans to the moon.


The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson

By M. Johnson

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase Fantastic story that took me by surprise. It takes a good 200 pages before you really get the gist of what is happening but it feels great when it all fits into place. Also I think Adam Johnson deserves an enormous amount of praise for tackling this incredibly difficult, yet often ignored, problem that is N.Korea. American audiences no doubt hear a great deal about N.Korea but here in the UK we only hear about it when there is another missile test. It's incredibly disturbing to think a regime as backward as this has lasted so long. I was too young to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall, I'm optimistic though that I will live to see the end of the DMZ.

Bearing in mind this is fiction, the narrative still projects a powerful real life message - something I an unlikely to forget anytime in the future. Comment Was this review helpful to you?


The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson

By RachelWalker T

OP 500 REVIEWER on 4 May 2013 Format: Paperback I admit, if i had read about this book a year or two ago I probably wouldn't have been quite so intrigued by it. If there's any book that can be said to be topical and follow a resurgent trope, this is it. Not in any kind of exploitative way, needless to say. But through a series of unpleasant coincidences, this really should be the book of the moment, the one on everyone's lips. Not just for its topicality, but for it's quality also.

This is the story of a North Korean orphan boy, and his journey from the orphanage to the interrogation bunkers of his nation's Dear Leader. The structure is complex, and certainly not linear. The first couple of hundred pages tell of our orphaned young man's early adventures in his homeland, and the second tell of his fantastical reach into the echelons of the mad power structure of the country under the guise of one Commander Ga. The first section is [relatively] straightforward, the second is the more challenging, but once you get your head around what's going on, it is by some distance the more rewarding of the two sections (not that the first is not of high quality). It also becomes the most compulsively gripping, interesting, frightening, and dangerously strange.

This is a book about many things: identity and stories predominantly, however (characters lie, act, pretend, say what they expect the leaders want to hear, change names, change personalities, change husbands, change life-stories). The narrative message that's what is conveyed by narrative is true, whether or not it is the truth, is one of the overarching messages here. Certainly in terms of life in North Korea.

Perhaps the most touching aspect of the story is the humanity of some of the characters, the citizens of Korea. Just like you and I, of course, but who live their lives with a complete different structure and belief, whether because simply go along with their governments version of events, or truly believe they live and are governed in the best way (it is deemed madness that Americans are not dispensed food tokens, that suntanning is not free, that dogs are trained in obedience but not children), which sometimes seems strangely plausible. The difference between people's internal and external lives is displayed clearly and sometimes heartbreakingly, particularly in some of the scenes between the interrogator and his parents.