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Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "The Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"The Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson

  1. Identity and Deception:

    • How does Pak Jun Do navigate his identity throughout the novel, especially considering his various roles and personas? How do the government's propaganda and manipulation affect his sense of self?
    • Discuss the theme of deception and the ways in which characters hide their true identities or conform to societal expectations in order to survive.
  2. Totalitarianism and Propaganda:

    • Analyze the portrayal of the totalitarian regime in North Korea and its use of propaganda to control its citizens. How does the government manipulate information and shape public perception?
    • Explore the ways in which characters like Pak Jun Do are influenced and affected by the regime's propaganda, both as perpetrators and victims.
  3. Power and Control:

    • Discuss the dynamics of power and control within the novel, including the roles of government officials, military leaders, and ordinary citizens. How do individuals wield power, and what are the consequences of challenging authority?
    • Consider the theme of agency and the characters' attempts to exert control over their own lives in a society that seeks to dictate their every move.
  4. Love and Loyalty:

    • Explore the various forms of love and loyalty depicted in the novel, including familial bonds, romantic relationships, and friendships. How do characters navigate their emotions and relationships in a society where trust is scarce and betrayal is common?
    • Discuss the sacrifices characters make for love and loyalty, and how these sacrifices shape their actions and decisions.
  5. Survival and Resilience:

    • Pak Jun Do's journey is one of survival against all odds. Discuss the challenges he faces and the strategies he employs to survive in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.
    • Explore the theme of resilience and the ways in which characters adapt to their circumstances in order to persevere.
  6. Narrative Structure and Perspective:

    • The novel employs various narrative techniques, including shifting perspectives and non-linear storytelling. How do these narrative choices enhance the reader's understanding of the characters and the world they inhabit?
    • Discuss the significance of the different perspectives presented in the novel, including Pak Jun Do's, Sun Moon's, and the government propaganda broadcasts.
  7. Symbolism and Allegory:

    • Analyze the use of symbolism and allegory throughout the novel, including recurring motifs such as radio broadcasts, loudspeakers, and the sea. How do these symbols contribute to the novel's themes and meaning?
    • Consider the allegorical elements of the novel and how they reflect broader themes of oppression, resistance, and the human condition.
  8. Morality and Ethics:

    • Explore the moral dilemmas faced by characters in the novel, especially Pak Jun Do, as he grapples with questions of right and wrong in a morally ambiguous society.
    • Discuss the novel's exploration of morality and ethics in extreme circumstances, and how characters navigate these complex issues.

Adam Johnson is an American author known for his award-winning fiction, often exploring themes of identity, power, and politics. Born on July 12, 1967, in South Dakota, Johnson grew up in Arizona and later attended Arizona State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Johnson went on to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from McNeese State University in Louisiana. He then earned a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, where he further honed his craft as a writer.

Johnson's literary career began with the publication of his short story collection, "Emporium," in 2002, which received critical acclaim. However, it was his second short story collection, "Fortune Smiles," published in 2015, that catapulted him to wider recognition. "Fortune Smiles" won the National Book Award for Fiction and solidified Johnson's reputation as a masterful storyteller.

In addition to his short fiction, Johnson is perhaps best known for his novel "The Orphan Master's Son," published in 2012. Set in North Korea, the novel follows the life of Pak Jun Do, an orphan who rises through the ranks of the North Korean regime. "The Orphan Master's Son" received widespread praise and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, further cementing Johnson's status as a leading voice in contemporary literature.

Johnson's work is characterized by its meticulous research, inventive storytelling, and ability to illuminate complex political and social issues through the lens of personal narratives. His writing often delves into the human condition, exploring themes of survival, morality, and the search for identity in the face of oppressive regimes and societal constraints.

In addition to his fiction writing, Johnson has also contributed essays and articles to various publications, including The New Yorker and The New York Times. He has taught creative writing at Stanford University and currently serves as a professor of English at the University of California, Irvine.

Adam Johnson continues to be celebrated for his insightful and thought-provoking fiction, which challenges readers to confront difficult truths about the world we live in. His work has earned him numerous awards and accolades, and he remains a prominent figure in contemporary American literature.


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