Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son is the best book I've read in the last year. The novel follows an everyman named Jun Do as he makes his way through the surreal, nightmarish world of Kim Jong-il's North Korea. It's a startling, totally convincing act of the imagination. Johnson has obviously done his research into labor camps, state media, and the like, but he's able to make this research come alive in a way that only the best fiction can. I can't recommend the book highly enough.

In the latest issue of GQ, Johnson has a brilliant, non-fiction profile of the man who served as Kim Jong-il's sushi chef and close friend for eleven years. Here's a sample:

The chef's name, an alias, is Kenji Fujimoto, and for eleven years he was Kim Jong-il's personal chef, court jester, and sidekick. He had seen the palaces, ridden the white stallions, smoked the Cuban cigars, and watched as, one by one, the people around him disappeared. It was part of Fujimoto's job to fly North Korean jets around the world to procure dinner-party ingredients—to Iran for caviar, Tokyo for fish, or Denmark for beer. It was Fujimoto who flew to France to supply the Dear Leader's yearly $700,000 cognac habit. And when the Dear Leader craved McDonald's, it was Fujimoto who was dispatched to Beijing for an order of Big Macs to go.

Read the rest here, then go buy The Orphan Master's Son.


Anthony Domestico is chair of the English and Global Literatures Department at Purchase College, and a frequent contributor to Commonweal. His book Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period is available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

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