The surest evidence that the woman in the photo was Jun Do’s mother was the unrelenting way the Orphan Master singled him out for punishment. It could only mean that in Jun Do’s face, the Orphan Master saw the woman in the picture, a daily reminder of the eternal hurt he felt from losing her. Only a father in that kind of pain could take a boy’s shoes in winter. Only a true father, flesh and bone, could burn a son with the smoking end of a coal shovel. - Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son
If literature is a fiction that tells a deeper truth, I feel my book is a very accurate portrayal of how the tenets of totalitarianism eat away at the things that make us human: freedom, art, choice, identity, expression, love. And because few things about North Korea are verifiable ... this seems to be a realm in which the imaginative reach of literary fiction is our best tool to discover the human dimension of such an elusive a society. But I know what you’re asking.... I have a rationale for every artistic decision I made in the book, but suffice it to say that most of the shocking aspects in my book are sourced from the real world.... What’s fiction is that one person might serve in all these capacities, as my character Jun Do does. But in this case I valued the larger portrait of North Korean society over the plausibility that one person would have such a range of positions.
I felt I actually had to tone down much of the real darkness of North Korea, as in the kwan li so gulags, the reports of which were so harrowing—forced abortions, amputations, communal executions—that I invented the blood harvesting as a less savage stand-in, one that was simple and visceral, for the ways that the Kim regime stole every drop of life from citizens it had sentenced to an eternity of slave labor.
Returning the Dear Leader’s gaze, Ga felt no fear looking into the eyes of the man who would get the last word. In fact, Ga was oddly carefree. I’d have felt this my whole life, Ga thought, if you had never existed.