adam johnson

2013 Pulitzer – Orphan Masters Son

2013 Pulitzer – Orphan Masters Son

adam-johnsonIf you don’t follow the world of the literati very closely, I will forgive you for not knowing that last year there wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize awarded.  And while I keep pretty close tabs on the writing community and its awards, this still may have bounced off my radar save for the fact that David Foster Wallace was short listed for The Pale King.

The Pulitzer is kind of like an Oscar for American authors.  To not give out the award is both a financial and a prestige blow to American authors as a whole.  When the shortlist is published just slide money across the table to those authors.  The news media highlight the authors and they are given the attention they so rightly deserve.  And then, when a winner is chosen?  You’ve just changed the life of one very deserving individual.  Until a winner ISN’T chosen that is.

I have spoken at length about my fan-boy crush on DFW’s writing, so just take it at face value that I believe Mr. Wallace to have been the greatest author of both the 20th and 21st centuries.  (Yeah, I understand what I just said.  And I’ll even make sure to live to the end of the 21st century just so I can argue this fact with you then.)   When DFW committed suicide he left an unfinished manuscript for his editor to find that would become The Pale King.  Obviously, a new novel from the man who wrote The Infinite Jest is going to be considered seriously for pretty much every literary prize invented.  In 2012 the following is a list of the nominees in the fiction category:

“Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson

“Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell

“The Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace

I have read probably 30 to 40k words discussing the how’s and the why’s of the Pulitizer inner-machinations and how no winner could be selected.  I enjoyed Swamplandia!, and was looking forward to reading Train Dreams as a result of Denis Johnson’s nomination when the word came out that there would be no winner for 2012.  At the end of the day it was a travesty.  Personally I think you basically hand the award to Wallace out of respect for his legacy and call 2012 good.  But that’s just me.

2013 Pulitzer – Orphan Masters Son

A new year, a new opportunity to screw it all up I figured.  Would the Pulitzer not be given out two years in a row?  After the amazing public outcry I sort of doubted it.  So after a year’s worth of controversy what candidates did we end up with?

“The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” by Nathan Englander

“The Snow Child,” by Eowyn Ivey

And surprisingly, The Orphan Master’s Son was the winner for this year’s Pulitzer (and last years?) The Orphan Master’s Son was something of a longshot for a number of reasons.  The most obvious of which is that at its heart the book is about an adventure of a North Korean and the high jinks he goes through as a spy and abductor.  (And many other things of course.)

When I was in South Korea recently I had the chance to talk to them about their North Korean neighbors.  And it surprised me to find out that there were whole sections of the South that were planing and organizing for the eventual fall of the North.  Even within the NGO I work for there are areas where we are planning for the collapse of the North and making sure we are prepared to help the countless impoverished children there.

So I was ecstatic to find out that the Orphan Master won.  The book really was life changingly insightful to me.  It was also hard to know a world like that exists during my life time and I that I am actively not working against such a regime as that.  I find myself railing against American in the 1940’s and how they went on about their daily lives oblivious to the Jews dying daily.  And yet, here I am, bee-bopping my way through life completely clueless to the atrocities going on in North Korea.  I mentioned the book in my January edition of “Books We Love” and I couldn’t agree more with the selection.  It definitely was my favorite book of 2012 by a long shot.