Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Never fear -- the world will never run out of material for fiction writers

I read Adam Johnson's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about North Korea last spring. "The Orphan Master's Son" is a humorous and harrowing look inside a country that most of us know through occasional TV clips that show the ridiculous-looking Kim Jong Un viewing a military parade or inspecting a missile site. The West lampoons him often, yet he still holds an iron grip over his citizens. Dennis Rodman visits occasionally, as The Great Dictator is a roundball fan. North Korea is is a great example of what an authoritarian regime can do once its power is institutionalized.

The latest stunt by North Korea is horrific. The country returned a comatose Otto Warmbier to the U.S. a week ago. Warmbier spent 18 months in a North Korea prison for stealing a propaganda poster from a wall. He supposedly wanted a souvenir. What he got was torture. U.S. officials tried to get him released but North Korea just relented when Warmbier was on his deathbed. An Ohio coroner has decided to investigate the case.

I saw a photo of his parents online. The looks on their stricken faces said it all. This wasn't supposed to happen... That could be and my wife standing there. We've experienced those 3 a.m. phone calls. None involved capture and torture and eventual death. But we know the look. The life of our child wasn't supposed to be like this... Will someone please explain this to us...

We are left with what could be the plot of a novel. A young American student gets more than he bargained for during a trip to N.K. He dies under mysterious circumstances. Trump bloviates. Kim Jong Un goes into hiding, fearing a decapitation attack by the U.S. and South Korea assassins. Could be fiction but it's not. It throws Johnson's novel into relief. Absurd and awful things happen to its North Korean protagonist, who has an orphan name but is not really an orphan.

What is fiction and what is fact?  We now have a billionaire reality TV star for president. He tweets nonsensical statements. Republican congressional reps draft major legislation in secret -- and lie about it. They are afraid to hold public meetings in their districts because people keep yelling at them. Our attorney general wants to recriminalize marijuana and return to those golden days of yesteryear when men were men, women were in the kitchen and everyone was afraid of  colored people. The Trumpists work hard to erase any record of our black president's eight years in office.

The world is so confusing. It can be a brutal place for a 22-year-old college student who takes one wrong step.

This makes it a fantastic place to be a writer.

How else can we make sense of it?

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