Author Adam Johnson on Phoenix, North Korea, and His Latest Novel, The Orphan Master's Son

Categories: Literary
Photo by Tamara Beckwith
Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson had already written a critically praised collection of short stories and a novel when he embarked on his second novel, "The Orphan Master's Son," which is set in North Korea.

"I read some experts on North Korea," Johnson says, "and I just went down the rabbit hole. I'd never found a place so dark, absurd, funny. It seemed to me to be the cruelest psychological experiment ever created."

But not everyone shared his fascination. "I thought I was going crazy," Johnson says now. "I would tell people I was writing about North Korea, and they would say, 'Why?'"

Undeterred, Johnson forged ahead with his tale of Pak Jun Do, the orphan master's son, who becomes a tunnel soldier trained in the art of zero-light combat and then a kidnapper for the state. He even visited North Korea, where he got a firsthand experience of the propaganda machine that had piqued his curiosity in the first place.

Now Johnson is touring the country to support "The Orphan Master's Son," which he'll read from at Changing Hands Bookstore, in Tempe this Wednesday. 

The trip will be a homecoming for him: He grew up in South Scottsdale and Tempe, and spent a lot of time at Changing Hands when the store was on Mill Avenue.

Johnson's parents were both from the Midwest; they moved to Arizona when his mother was accepted into graduate school in psychology. Johnson was 2. His father got a job as a night watchman at the Phoenix Zoo, and he would take his son to work for a couple of hours while Johnson's mother worked on her dissertation.

"I knew from an early age that there was a zoo that everyone else saw and then there was the real zoo, the zoo I got to see," Johnson remembers. "And my father knew all their animals and their behaviors, and I could see the way they really lived. It gave me an early sense that there was always another world behind this one."

Location Info


Changing Hands Bookstore

6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe, AZ

Category: General

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

Now Trending

Phoenix Concert Tickets

From the Vault