It might seem like an odd time to release a novel that includes a fictionalized narrative by Kim Jong-Il, seeing that North Korea’s self-described “Dear Leader” recently died. Then again, maybe it’s the best time. Kim’s shadow will long hang over the people he ruled, and it will continue to loom large in the Western imagination, considering North Korea is such a secretive nation that’s also a nuclear threat — and the little we know about Kim points to his being a fabulously bizarre individual. Fortunately, Adam Johnson is a nuanced and generous author with an understated wit, and his debut novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, will probably enjoy a longer life than the dictator. Inspired by research for Johnson’s unfinished satirical short story “The Best North Korean Short Story of 2005,” The Orphan Master’s Son follows the life of Jun Do, an average North Korean who serves in a work camp and as a state-sanctioned kidnapper. He impersonates a government minister while evading the ever-present threat of execution. Demonstrating a literary playfulness that recalls David Mitchell, The Orphan Master’s Son interweaves Jun Do’s story and the official account of Kim Jong-Il and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Johnson traveled to North Korea to research the novel, giving The Orphan Master’s Son verisimilitude and offering Western readers a rare glimpse into a world that remains isolated and strange.
Tue., Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m., 2012