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Cold and lonely. Such is Jun Do’s life. The cold might be in the unheated orphanage run by his father, where Jun Do fairs no better than the orphans over whose life he holds the power of life and death. It may be at his listening post on board the fishing vessel Jumna or in Prison 33, but his world is predominantly cold. The cold places are also lonely. His father’s refusal to acknowledge him seals his fate with the orphans, who, without families for the state to use to extort fulfillment of duty, are only allowed to perform jobs that likely end in death. No one gets close to another in the pitch black incursion tunnels under the DMZ.
Despite his orphan-like loneliness, Jun Do (phonetically pronounced John Doe), finds an odd nurture from the heart of the Jumna‘s captain and mother-like protection from Mognan, Prison 33’s photographer. For a fleeting moment he finds intimacy in the arms of Sun Moon. Nurture and intimacy are the victories of a lifetime when displayed against the gray, brutal background of North Korea. To love after being unloved is a lifetime achievement.
Jun Do’s life takes some improbable twists, yet Adam Johnson makes them believable, even logical. At page five I wanted to to know what happened next to Jun Do. By page twenty I wanted to see him succeed in a way that kept the pages turning late into the night. The narrative structure requires an occasional mental adjustment and page review just make sure the reader has the sequence correct, but it works in the telling of this story, serving to heighten suspense.
During and after reading The Orphan Master’s Son I went to the internet to see which components of the Johnson’s portrayal of North Korean culture were true and which were not. Unfortunately most are true or based on a composite picture of a sick Orwellian culture.
Stylistically this book is in a class by itself. You will find no formula writing or cliche here. Thematically, this book reminds me a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where loyalty and love are all the more valuable for existing in a world with so little of either.
One of the posts on this site with the most hits is Sports and Character (you may want to read the original first). Since people seem interested in the subject, I am following up with the post below, which my daughter wrote originally for her company’s newsletter. How pleased I am that she got the lessons we had hoped to teach as parents. We are always teaching, even when we don’t know it.
By the way, the young woman pictured below is the toothless child with trophies in Sports and Character. She’s currently VP of Human Resources for Atlantic Engineering Group.
For those of y’all who know me well, know that I am a little bit of a freak when it comes to college football. I grew up going to games with my dad and at a young age developed a deep devotion to my team that would eventually turn into my alma mater. My husband calls me a “mom fan.” So, what’s a “mom fan”? A “mom fan” is a fan no matter how my team performs, no matter the record at the end of the year, my love and devotion for the young kids that commit to my team are a part of my family, and I care for their well being regardless of a win or loss. I pray for their safety (on and off the field), I take interest in the personal lives that they are willing to share with the fan base, and I feel the need to protect and stick up for them if their character is ever brought into question. Overkill? Maybe…but we all have a little bit of crazy in us, and this just happens to be mine. I embrace it.
I tell you all this because I think it is important to set the stage for an eye opening experience I had a few weeks ago. I was in attendance of one of the best college football games, that I have ever and may ever see in my life, at my home stadium, but yet sitting in the visitor section. Talk about a lonely feeling….being literally yards from 85,000 of my best friends but immediately surrounded by my mortal enemy- at least for this particular Saturday in November. There were a lot of people around me that hated my team – almost as much as I hated theirs. They booed when my team took the field, they cheered when their defense stopped our run, and jumped up and down when my beloved quarterback got thrown on the ground. This is obviously part of the game, and obviously something I was just going to have to deal with, I mean, I was in fact cheering when the exact opposite happened and they were on the receiving end, but there was a man behind me that little did he know was teaching me a lesson.
His first comment that caught my attention was when he yelled something to the effect of, “Come on ref, give us a home team spot like you have been doing the whole time for them!” Only, his version was a bit more “colorful” than my edited variation. Then he proceeded to call my team “cheaters” roughly 20 to 30 times, again with a little more color than what I am prepared to share here and continuously attacked the character of our players and our entire program- never once making mention of his teams numerous false starts, missed tackles or broken coverage. Then the lesson came when his young son, my guess 7 to 9, turned to his father after a very debated call and said, “This ref hates us and we are going to lose the game because it is so unfair!” I realized that in that moment that father had taught his son that you can deflect responsibility and that when things don’t go your way you (or your team in this matter) don’t have to be the one responsible. It obviously must be someone else’s fault.
I realize that this is “just a football game” but it is a perfect illustration of the lack of responsibility assumption in this world. Too much deflecting, and not enough ownership and we are teaching this lesson to others around us. This situation, while I hope the father offsets this instance and we can just chalk it up to me being overactive in a very heated sporting event, taught me something that I want to pass on to my children: Be courageous enough to assume responsibility for your output into this world- whether it be good or bad.
Let me conclude by saying that I have left the team names out as to not offend anyone as I know that there are others out there just as crazy as I am about their team. We all have one here or there what we aren’t that proud of. I am also keenly aware, that somewhere in that sea of 87,000 people in attendance of that game, there was a man or woman cheering for that same team that was teaching their son about sportsmanship and humbleness.
Thanks to the folks at Upper Room who asked me to write the article linked below.
Randi Zuckerman’s last name may sound familiar. Her brother, Mark, founded Facebook. Dot.Complicated contain’s a short history of her career at Facebook and many of her observations of life in the age of social media.
The book contains many insightful comments from research on how social media effects us. Here are some paraphrases of a few:
A 2012 study from Harris Interactive reveals that 40% of people would rather go to jail for a night than give up their contacts through social media. (p. 63)
Sam Roberts from the University of Chester, England, reported that people laugh 50% more with friends in real life than through social media. (p. 114) [Think about that real life comment.]
In the July, 2013, edition of Computers in Human Behavior, Dr. Andy Przybylksi reports that individuals with the highest levels of FOMO have the lowest levels of life satisfaction. [FOMO = the fear your life doesn’t measure up to the Facebook lives of your friends.]
Zuckerman also offers some of her personal insights about the connected life. Here are some quotations:
….there’s no privacy or security setting in the world that can save you from a friend’s bad judgment [to share your private information]. (p. 83)
Today everyone is a broadcaster as well as a receiver. In the past, we were all just passive consumers of information. Creating content was reserved only for the rich and powerful, who controlled and ran large media companies. But, now each of us can generate and share as much as we receive. (p. 66).
The author also talks about the ways social media has blurred the edges between personal and professional lives. For instance, does your boss read your Facebook posts? The influence of parents’ over their children’s internet behavior also gets a chapter and is worth reading more closely.
The downside of the book is Zuckerman’s stream of consciousness writing style. The loose and redundant language gives the impression that the book was dictated and then edited (some). There are too many usages of “blown away,” “train wreck,” and “OMG!” The book could have been half as long and still contained all the significant insights.
Still I think the book is worth the effort. Once the reader gets the flow, it is easy to skim and read the gray-paneled summaries at the end of each chapter. I’d recommend the book for anyone interested in the shifts in our culture brought about by Facebook – and for parents who use social media, but have not yet realized the different world their children are living in.