Why We Read What We Read

Finishing “The Orphan Master’s Son”, and reading through the interview snippet and discussion questions at the end of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I’m left wondered, why do we read what we read?

The questions and the discussion at the end of the book focused on the fact that this U.S. author could attempt to (and seemingly accurately) depict North Korean life. The ideas of North Korean life and the amazing abilities to give the world a view of North Korea was all anything or anybody could talk about. Hell, this book made it into talk radio where someone asked how we can believe what Johnson wrote.

I honestly can’t figure out why THIS is the topic of discussion of this book.

It’s fiction. Yes Johnson toured what that part of North Korea every “lucky” outsider gets to tour. That gives him ZERO understanding. This is fiction and must be seen as such. But there IS something that SHOULD be discussed.

His ability to truly understand pain, suffering, the psychological distortion of torture and brainwashing and totalitarianism. THAT’S what people should be discussing.

Johnson did something I can’t believe he could do. I can’t find much about Adam Johnson online other than his teaching background, but I’m guessing solely on his current station in life, that he did not live a life even remotely painful enough to truly understand the consciousness of someone in those positions. However, he did so in ways that are so NOT topical, I questioned if he actually DID live such a life.

At one point early on, Jun Do, the main character, sees a homeless man laying sprawled out on a bench. You’d expect a narrator to draw attention to the man’s ability to sleep or live peacefully while Jun Do lives in Hell on Earth. But no. Jun Do comments to himself about how he knows the man grew up being able to sleep where he wants on large objects because his arms and legs were sprawled out, whereas Jun Do slept all his life on a tiny sliver of a “bed.”

That is truly impressive work. And yet, nobody gives to solid shakes about it.

It’s ironic too, because a major theme is that the man doesn’t matter, the story does, and that truth is what those with the power to write it write it as. Here, people are focused on the topical piece of North Korea. They care about the place and the scenery, not the story.

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