I knew very little about North Korea before I read this novel.
I paused for a long moment, when I finished the book.
Adam Johnson researched for a long period the country and the period. He was allowed to visit it once, under close scrutiny. Hence the realism of characters and depiction of events. In a recent history of the country when human life was worth nothing, Johnson puts is upfront.
The protagonist is such a complex character. At a first impression, it is incredible that a human being can go through so many things and with such an intensity. Hunger, bitter cold, deprivations, pain training, “re-birth” as a national hero and then – a regime’s general, love, torture and annihilation. His character is a tribute to all Koreans who suffered, struggled, loved and made sacrifices in times of extreme tyranny and harsh repression.
The genre is so nuanced and complex that I would not give it a name: is it a thriller, a love story, a political dystopia? Perhaps “trauma narrative”, as Johnson himself puts it is the closest to the dominant genre. And stay assured, it is no trauma-drama. It is poignant and respective of all the suffering of all concerned.
The novel is a compassion booster and a reminder that one never knows what a person has been through. Be kind.
In the July 13, 1960 The New York Times, reviewer Herbert Mitgang dubs Mockingbird “a winning first novel by a fresh writer with something significant to say.”
I read the novel in 2019. This book made me laugh. It also filled my eyes with tears. I tend to think its effects on me as a reader had to do with the author’s choice to narrate the story through a child’s eyes:
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” “If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time . . . it’s because he wants to stay inside.”
The above is a dialogue between two siblings, a brother and a sister. The story unwinds in a small fictional Southern town in the USA in mid 30s. The kids characters make sense of the world around them through friendships, time at school, peculiar relations with neighbours and other white and non-white communities. The story gains intensity as their father becomes a defense lawyer of an afro-american accused of a white woman rape he has not committed. The father becomes a “nigro-lover” in the eyes of the community and his kids are verbally and psysically attacked. The displays of courage and compassion in the face of racism, prejudice, violence and hypocrisy were admirable back then, and, perhaps, even to a greater extent – now.