Novel by Adam Johnson set inside North Korea wins Pulitzer prize


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The Independent Culture

As the world waits to see what the North Korean dictatorship does next, the judges of the Pulitzer prizes yesterday honoured a novel acclaimed for its depiction of the secretive state, naming Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son” as the winner of the fiction award after withholding the prize last year.

The book recounts the adventures of a North Korean man called Jun Do - interpreted by critics as a homonym for John Doe - and was hailed by the judges as “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.”

Mr Johnson, who currently teaches English and creative writing at Stanford University in California, beat two finalists to take home the award: Nathan Englander and his short story collection “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” and Eowyn Ivey and her novel “The Snow Child.”

Though fiction is just one of 21 Pulitzer prizes handed out annually by New York’s Columbia University, it was closely watched this year, after the judges withheld the 2012 award - the first time they had done so in 35 years. The prize jury had submitted three finalists to the board - “The Pale King,” a novel put together from David Foster Wallace’s notes after his suicide in 2008, “Swamplandia” by Karen Russell and Denis Johnson’s novella “Train Dreams” - but it failed to agree on a clear winner, dashing the hopes of writers, and their agents and publishers across the America.

Initially awarded to select works in just a handful of categories in 1917, the number of prizes has been broadened to 21 in the decades since the honours were instituted under the provisions of the will of the newspaper baron Joseph Pulitzer.

Yesterday, as Mr Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son” won the 2013 fiction prize, other winners included the Sun Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, which took home the gong for public service journalism, and the staff of The Denver Post, which won the prize for breaking news reporting. Among the other non-journalism award winners were Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced,” which took the drama prize, and Fredrik Logevall’s “Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam,” which was honoured in the history category.