Author Adam Johnson on life inside North Korea



now North Korea has said it will not allow any prominent Americans to travel to the country to appeal for the release of Kenneth BAE the 44 year old was sentenced to 15 years hard labor last week for what the regime described as hostile acts comparatively few Westerners have been to the secretive state but one who has is the author Adam Johnson whose fictionalized account of life in North Korea won the Pulitzer Prize last month the orphan masters son tells the story of Pat Jimdo who works as a soldier and a naval spy before ending up in a prison camp well Adam Johnson joins us now from California's Stanford University and your book has been really praised for offering a deep insight into North Korea and yet you spent a relatively short amount of time there I mean how did you go about understanding the place well thank you for the question it's good to be here I did do several years of research unfortunately you cannot tell the North Koreans how long you'd like to visit the Korean culture fascinates me so I would have liked to have stayed longer than the week that they allowed me and what were you able to do in that week and how important was that week to actually your understanding well the portrait that I made of North Korean life and I wanted to focus on what it was like to be at average North Korean how do they live how do they communicate how do their families work what do they aspire to that portrait was made by the testimonies of defectors but when I went to Pyongyang I wanted to get the surface of the country right what did the streets look like what were people wearing what did you smell in the market what was the expression in people's eyes I knew going in that it was illegal for a citizen of North Korea to interact with a foreigner so that was the one place in the world where you cannot talk to a North Korean is actually in North Korea you're pretty noticeable or you would have been in North Korea and I just wonder how you know how people react to you given that yes I'm 195 centimeters tall I look much physically different than the it's North Korea but in North Korea you have to understand that the prisons are real re-education is real and in that country the terrorism the state is transferred to the family because families as a group go to jail and because it's a crime to interact with a foreigner even there's suspicion that you were taking an interest kept people from looking at me and as I walked through the streets of Pyongyang through crowds of thousands of people I had the experience honestly for the first time in my life of being invisible as people parted without even looking at me they didn't even glance at me and look away they seemed to know that there was something dangerous in their field of view and they edited themselves they edited me out of their world and no one ever looked at me now you've put North Korean prison into your novel and I want to try and turn your attention to Kenneth BAE the American who's currently in prison now because I mean when you look at that news story you imagine that North Koreans well there's a lot of you know not just dislike but maybe paranoia or hatred of Americans don't know whether you picked up on that and I don't know how you how do you think about his situation now well I don't really want to speak to the particulars of his case but all the prisons in North Korea are political whether their work farms re-education camps or the Quan Li so camp switch to the irredeemable there irredeemable camps I doubt that he's going to go to one of those camps he's a very valuable person he's certainly going to be used as a bargaining chip and I I would think though that he's terribly afraid it's a serious country labor and privation are much different things there than we think of them here and until someone comes to rescue him he's probably looking at a long and happy time there did you come back with an understanding of how they feel about Americans well you know I read the North Korean propaganda every day their part their newspapers called the Rodong shinmun they publish it in English so your readers can go to either KCNA JP or just google Rodong shinmun and read the propaganda that North Korea puts out every day Japan America and South Korea are the great enemies of that state and they're dare daily putting forth tirades against the west and that's the only news that people understand there you have to understand that except for a very small portion of elites in Pyongyang the entire nation has no other access to information other than what state-sponsored Adam Jones thank you very much indeed for joining us

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