Adam Johnson Reading from The Orphan Master’s Son @ PowerHouse Arena
Something about Adam Johnson struck me as instantly likeable. I’d tiptoed late into PowerHouse Arena, maybe halfway through the audience Q&A, and quietly purchased a copy of “The Orphan Master’s Son.” Set my dainty ass on the concrete slabs, peered out from behind my thick glasses to my first visit to PowerHouse Arena.
Standing behind a podium or, later, sitting at a table, Adam’s height was striking –- an attribute that likely turned heads in Korea. I pulled out my notebook and began taking notes as Adam continued reminiscing about the citizens of the most secluded country in the world. Overall, his assessment was of a people fully aware of the life they lived, no “people’s paradise,” despite the ban on any outside media or the 24-7 barrage of propaganda.
His government-appointed tour guide, or “minder,” as he put it, accompanied him nearly everywhere he went in North Korea. The sips of information we receive via home videos released to the internet largely corroborate Adam’s summation: a crippled, sad country whose so-paranoid-it’d-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-real government is determined to put on a rosy picture for what few Westerners make it across their border.
But that’s one of many problems in finding the truth about what really goes on behind the desperately cheerful “minders” and frowning soldiers – so much of what we hear about North Korea is an anecdote, a story, a rumor. Adam used the example of in-home propaganda, a hardwired speaker or low-fi radio found in every home, ostensibly installed to protect against an American air raid. Though nearly every emigrant confirmed their existence, there’s no video, no picture, no “official” confirmation.