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Giveaway Opportunity: Summer Reading Bundle!

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Strout_Kitteridge Nothing says “summer” like a bundle of books, right?! Okay. A lot of things say “summer,” but today it is a bundle of books! Enter here and below for your chance to win a summer reading bundle that will make you swoon with literary love whether you are on a beach, climbing a mountain, or just sipping lemonade on the back porch.

Celebrate summer with us and enter for your chance to win one copy of each:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Widow for One Year by John Irving

Stay up to date with Random House Reader’s Circle on our Facebook page for author updates, more giveaway opportunities, and feel good book love.

Giveaway Opportunity: THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON by Adam Johnson

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Orphan Master's Son with Pulitzer Burst“A daring and remarkable novel.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON is an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

If you haven’t read this fabulous novel yet then we have an opportunity for you! Enter below for your chance to win a copy of Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. This copy includes exclusive Random House Reader’s Circle extra content including discussion questions for you and your book club and a Q&A between the author and his editor, David Ebershoff.

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Reader’s Guide: THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON by Adam Johnson

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Orphan Master's Son with Pulitzer Burst “All of these elements—stylistic panache, technical daring, moral weight and an uncanny sense of the current moment—combine in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, the single best work of fiction published in 2012. . . . The book’s cunning, flair and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word.” —The Wall Street Journal

Adam Johnson, recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, sits down with his editor, David Ebershoff, for a Q&A about The Orphan Master’s Son.

As an added bonus, we also have discussion questions (below) to help get you and your book club’s discussion started!

Want more? Be sure to check out the RHRC extra materials in the back of your copy of The Orphan Master’s Son. Also, we’d love to know your thoughts-share with us on Facebook and Twitter.

A Conversation Between Adam Johnson and David Ebershoff

David Ebershoff: Let’s start with Jun Do, your protagonist. Of the one million and one creative decisions you made when writing this book, he was probably your most important. It’s one thing to think about North
Korea as a subject for a novel, but of course countries and political structures are never really the subjects of good fiction—people are. How did you settle on Jun Do as your guide—and ours—through this frightmare of a world?

Adam Johnson: Much is written about the political, military, and economic aspects of the DPRK, but it was always the personal dimension that interested me. I wondered how families huddled under such repression and how people maintained their identities against the tide of propaganda, and whether lovers, despite the dangers, shared their intimate thoughts. So, from the beginning, my goal in this book was to create a single character that felt fully human to me. I should probably say “capture” as much as “create,” because I used so much research to build the story. The first person I interviewed for the book had been an orphan from the North, and the desperation and sadness of his experience steeped the book’s opening. All the stories of defectors fascinated me, and whether they worked at canning factories or on fi shing boats, they all shared common experiences of mandatory military service, the famine years, loved ones disappearing, and brutality from the state. In a world where expression is measured and spontaneity is dangerous, it was especially important to find moments of intimacy and humor and surprise. Jun Do grew out of this research. As the book opens, he’s an everyman, a character who does what he’s told when he’s told, however grim the task, and he doesn’t ask questions. But by listening to foreign broadcasts and through a chance encounter with American sailors, spontaneity and possibility enter Jun Do’s life. From that point on, he decides to act on his own needs and desires, which will bring him into conflict with every aspect of his society.

DE: I think the first time you break my heart in this book—and you break it many times—is within the first few pages when the reader realizes that Jun Do, who is proud to be the only kid at the orphanage with a parent, is also an orphan. In real life, an orphan’s story can be so overwhelmingly sad that we sometimes see him or her only with pity, rather than with complexity. And yet on the page orphans draw us in, as both readers and writers. Why do you think that is?

AJ: Yes, in real life, our hearts extend. I’d never written about an orphan before, and I was struck by Jun Do’s resilience and inquisitiveness. In fiction, a character like this is a blank slate, one without advocates or champions, a person for whom even the basic notions of love and bonding come as big discoveries. And, of course, in North Korea your primary relationship is with the state. Your loyalties must lie with the regime first and your family second, which makes an orphan of everyone to some degree, and the Kim regime the true orphan master.

DE: Yes, the blank slate of the orphan gives the writer a sort of freedom, I think. When I see someone interesting on the subway—the lady with her new Bible, or the delivery guy holding down a dozen Mylar balloons— my mind goes in two different directions. Where are they coming from? And where are they going? Often the second question is what drives a novel forward. But the first question can also be a source of a novel’s depth. With a character who is an orphan, who will never know his family’s true story, the first question will take you only so far, perhaps. Speaking of which, I’ve seen your pictures of the Pyongyang subway. There are no Mylar balloons and definitely no Bibles. When you went to North Korea you had been working on the book for a few years already. You’d been reading and thinking about it for a long time. What most surprised you when you saw it for yourself?

AJ: Actually, the use of balloons is a common tactic of getting information and miniature Bibles to the citizens in the North. The balloons are large, usually the size of a beach ball, and they’re released south of the DMZ to float north with precious items like wool socks attached, things so rare that North Koreans take great risks to track the balloons down, and this is where they discover pro religious material or antiregime material attached. I had been working on The Orphan Master’s Son for a couple years before I finally found a path to Pyongyang. Few people get a chance to travel there, and my minders—bright, funny, interesting people—did not know what to make of me. Because I was deep into the novel, I knew the sites I wanted to visit, and my minders were thrilled when I asked to view monuments of great national pride like the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery (which figures prominently in the book) or the hothouses where the national flowers kimjongilia and kimilsungia are bred. But when I showed interest in visiting an outdated amusement park, I was met with great suspicion. It didn’t help that I asked why there were no disabled people in the capital, where the fire stations were located, and how did the mail get delivered without mailboxes. When I observed that all the women in Pyongyang wore the same shade of lipstick, it was kind of the last straw. The truly shocking, scary things I noted in Pyongyang I put right into the book: a dump truck filled with “volunteers” headed to the country side, a family scrambling to steal chestnuts from a public park, shock-work whistles, chrome Kalashnikovs, and a night watchman sitting up all night to guard the carp in the fishponds.

DE: Did you get to talk to anyone outside the orchestrated tour?

AJ: That’s a good question. Actually, it’s illegal for a citizen of the DPRK to interact with a foreigner. All the people I met had been through special training to handle American visitors. So there wasn’t room for a genuine interaction. Walking the streets of the capital through crowds of Pyongyangites heading to their destinations, I felt a powerful urge to talk to them, to hear their stories, but that wasn’t possible, so I had to bring their stories to life through fiction.

DE: I wonder if you glimpsed, if even through a car window, anyone experiencing something that might be described as joy. Not joy about the political realities, of course, but just a simple joy like walking with a friend or pausing to feel a breeze.

1. How much did you know about North Korea before reading The Orphan Master’s Son? How has it changed your perspective on life there?

2. The Orphan Master’s Son has been characterized as a thriller, a love story, and a political dystopia. How would you classify the novel in terms of genre? How do you think each of these genres manifests itself
in the book?

3. Speaking of genre, Adam Johnson once categorized the novel as a “trauma narrative.” How do you interpret that term? Do you think it suitably describes the novel, and if so, in what ways?

4. How did you feel about the inclusion of Kim Jong Il as a central character in the book? How would you say Johnson depicts him? Were you surprised by his portrayal?

5. Discuss the differences between the fi rst part of the novel, “The Biography of Jun Do,” and the second, “The Confessions of Commander Ga.”

6. How do the propaganda chapters, written as if spoken from a loudspeaker, play into your reading of the novel?

7. What do you feel the first-person narrative contributed to the story? Did you feel more or less removed from a world so closely guarded?

8. Reviewers have drawn comparisons between The Orphan Master’s Son and classic dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. Are these apt comparisons? Does Johnson’s fiction, which is based on fact, have a different impact from that of novels which center on invented worlds?

9. At one point, Dr. Song says to Jun Do, “Where we are from, stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in confl ict, it is the man who must change.” What does this mean in the context of the novel?

10. In one of the most poignant and powerful moments in the book, one of the interrogators remembers the way in which his father explained life in North Korea: “Even if we walked this path side by side, he said, we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.” What does the quote imply about the reality of living in
such a repressive society? How does it speak to humanness in the face of inhumanity?

11. Discuss the significance of “Jun Do” as a homonym for “John Doe,” the Western name for the unnamed and the everyman.

12. Discuss Jun Do’s physical and emotional journey, and his transformation from the beginning of the novel to the end.

13. One critic described The Orphan Master’s Son as “darkly comedic,” and another as, at times, “ridiculously funny.” How do you feel about the use of comedy in conjunction with the brutality of the novel?

14. How should the rest of the world respond to the violence and tyranny of present-day North Korea? Do we have a moral obligation to intervene? What can we do to help the people of North Korea without supporting its government?

Jane’s Bookshelf: Historical Fiction as a Window to the Past

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

I’ve been thinking about historical fiction lately. It seems to me that when I was growing up, there were three kinds of historical novels. First were the classics that might have been written contemporaneously to the time they depicted but were historical to a late 20th century reader, whether it was Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE or Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE. Then there were the books that explored life in ancient cultures like Mary Renault’s THE KING MUST DIE or Irving Stone’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY. And of course, there were portraits of kings and queens of yore in the novels of Jean Plaidy and Margaret George, among others. Today, the classics remain and writers still write these kinds of novels: just this past year saw the publications of THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller, BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel, and LIONHEART by Sharon Kay Penman, for example.

ParisWife_hc We’ve also seen the flowering of a different kind of historical fiction. Books like LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan, THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain, and THE 19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff start with the story of real women who have extraordinary men in their lives, whether it be Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, or Brigham Young. And yet in the hands of these storytellers, you don’t feel you are reading lives recreated in fiction, but rather that you are meeting women whose stories enlighten our understanding of these men and their lives. That these stories are based on real people’s lives makes the reading experience that much more vivid, and gives us a deep understanding of the human condition, of love and betrayal.

It’s not just women romantically involved with famous men whose lives have made for great historical novels. Melanie Benjamin created an indelible, fresh portrait of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s novels, in ALICE I HAVE BEEN. Her latest novel THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB brings to life AutobiographyMrsTomThumbLavinia Warren Bump, who became a worldwide celebrity after marrying General Tom Thumb. Benjamin portrays 19th century America so vividly I often felt I was reading a painting. Sometimes I think that this new era of historical fiction began with two novels that married imaginary characters and real people: GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland and GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier. Both have Vermeer as the historical figure at their centers; one created the lives touched by an invented painting while the other imagined the life of his servant. I love both—I tried and failed to acquire Tracy Chevalier, but was lucky enough to become first Susan Vreeland’s paperback editor and now work with her from the start of every book.

I’ve found the way novelists intertwine what actually happened with their own fictional worlds adds nuance to a book club discussion. I’ve always loved history and fiction—so historical fiction is perfect for me. I’d love to hear about some of your favorites, I know I’ll want to add them to my T.B.R. pile! Let me know what they are in the comments section below or on Twitter at @JaneatRandom.

David Ebershoff’s novel, THE 19th WIFE, is now a Lifetime original movie!

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Tune in tonight, 9pm eastern, or on Saturday, 9/18 at 9pm. After that, watch it any time during the following 30 days on Lifetime.com.

Click here to learn more about the book, see discussion questions, and read a Q&A with David Ebershoff!

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