November 2015 Book Club Selection

The Orphan Master's Son
Johnson, Adam: The Orphan Master’s Son* (2012)

* Winner of 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Discussion: Thursday, November 12, 2015, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Carole Beauclerk, 1500 SW Park Ave in Portland, 503-780-2722. On-street parking in downtown Portland is free beginning at 7:00 pm. Upon arrival, scroll up or down to Beauclerk (check the code, which should be 014) and identify yourself as a Book Club participant to be buzzed in. Then turn right into the building’s lobby and take an immediate left into the community room. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Booklist: Pak Jun Do lives with his father at a North Korean work camp for orphans. In a nation in which every citizen serves the state, orphans routinely get the most dangerous jobs. So it is for Jun Do, who becomes a tunnel soldier, trained to fight in complete darkness in the tunnels beneath the DMZ. But he is reassigned as a kidnapper, snatching Japanese citizens with special skills, such as a particular opera singer or sushi chef. Failure as a kidnapper could lead directly to the prison mines. But in Johnson’s fantastical, careening tale, Jun Do manages to impersonate Commander Ga, the country’s greatest military hero, rival of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and husband of Sun Moon, North Korea’s only movie star. Informed by extensive research and travel to perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, Johnson has created a remarkable novel that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief. As Jun Do, speaking as Ga, puts it, people have been trained to accept any reality presented to them. Johnson winningly employs different voices, with the propagandizing national radio station serving as a mad Greek chorus. Descriptions of everyday privations and barbarities are matter of fact, and Jun Do’s love for Sun Moon reads like a fairy tale. Part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and part romance, The Orphan Master’s Son is a triumph on every level.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

October 2012 Book Club Selection

Nothing to Envy
Demick, Barbara: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2010)

Our discussion took place: October 2012

Review: © Booklist: In spite of the strict restrictions on foreign press, award-winning journalist Demick caught telling glimpses of just how surreal and mournful life is in North Korea. Her chilling impressions of a dreary, muffled, and depleted land are juxtaposed with a uniquely to-the-point history of how North Korea became an industrialized Communist nation supported by the Soviet Union and China and ruled by Kim Il Sung, then collapsed catastrophically into poverty, darkness, and starvation under the dictator’s son, Kim Jong Il. Demick’s bracing chronicle of the horrific consequences of decades of brutality provide the context for the wrenching life stories of North Korean defectors who confided in Demick. Mi-ran explains that even though her “tainted blood” (her father was a South Korean POW) kept her apart from the man she loved, she managed to become a teacher, only to watch her starving students waste away. Dr. Kim Ki-eum could do nothing to help her dying patients. Mrs. Song, a model citizen, was finally forced to face cruel facts. Strongly written and gracefully structured, Demick’s potent blend of personal narratives and piercing journalism vividly and evocatively portrays courageous individuals and a tyrannized state within a saga of unfathomable suffering punctuated by faint glimmers of hope.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble