Tuesday, February 12, 2013

North Korea's nuclear test & Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son

From today's BBC story "North Korea carries out biggest nuclear test:"
North Korea has carried out its third, most powerful nuclear test despite UN warnings, and said "even stronger" action might follow. It described the test as a "self-defensive measure" necessitated by the "continued hostility" of the US. Its main ally, China, criticised the test, which was condemned worldwide. Nuclear test monitors in Vienna say the underground explosion had double the force of the 2009 test, despite apparently involving a smaller device. Analysts say this could take Pyongyang closer to building a warhead small enough to arm a missile.

So what is it like to live in North Korea?  After visiting, Adam Johnson attempted to depict the country in The Orphan Master's Son, which is now probably the most well-known English novel set in North Korea:
Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of...an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return. ... Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves... Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.

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