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In six masterful stories, Johnson delves deep into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. "Nirvana", which won the prestigious Sunday Times short story prize, portrays a programmer, whose wife has a rare disease, finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. In "Hurricanes Anonymous" - first included in the Best American Short Stories anthology - a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine" follows a former warden of a Stasi prison in East Germany who vehemently denies his past, even as pieces of it are delivered in packages to his door. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject, North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.
Unnerving, riveting, and written with a timeless quality, these stories confirm Johnson as one of America's greatest writers and an indispensable guide to our new century.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mel on 10-29-15
Half Full or Half Empty
How can you explain why something resonated in you and bounced off someone else? Just look at the two reviews that appear here for this book right now, 5:30 p.m. MST 10/28/15 "Darwin" and "Unhappy Sirius Camper". A 5* and a1*; it couldn't be more disparate. I am aligned completely with Darwin's opinion of this book (and have to thank him for a glowing review that compelled me to get this) . It MUST be a case of how you see the glass. For the Unhappy guy/gal this is a half empty, for me it is absolutely overflowing. Author Adam Johnson captures the fragility of *us*, and shows that we are, as Whitman wrote, "Multitudes."
Johnson gives us a collection of 6 stories, the final "Fortune Smiles," a return to his 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Orphan Master's Son. In these few stories (far too few IMO) Johnson reaches deep into the situations and lives of People, pushes illness, death, jealousy, mourning, hope, even pornography and pedophilia, into the background and lets these wretched aching souls speak beyond words and judgements. I imagine each person will read them subjective to their own lives, but Johnson has a talent for slipping you into the story just barely ahead of your own biases or experience. The unrolling facts of each story, written so fluidly concise, take turns with you on an emotional and intellectual level -- a battle of the mind and the heart. Though not for every reader, others may find themselves in new frontiers of humanity -- seeing the child that was, in the monster; the other side of the coin; walking a mile in someone else's shoes; understanding how love and hatred can occupy simultaneously one feeling.
I remember for just a second feeling a thought skitter across my mind, formed somewhere beneath my consciousness (I can't even recall which story it was I was listening to). It whispered, this must be how God sees us. It may be hard to read, the human condition seems so raw, but it is at the same time reaffirming. Collectively we struggle, we fail, we carry on. There is a beauty in our ability to do so. I loved this read and hope it is read and loved by others. If I knew the sound your heart makes when it is pierced and wrung out, I would type those letters here, or if there was only an emoji -- it would be so much easier, because sometimes words just aren't enough. So I'll say it with 5 little stars.
The mixed narration is done beautifully, turning the stories into soliloquys unaware of an audience. How many times do we get to listen to a voice that conveys such emotion? Even in the gruff voice of the narrator on "George Orwell is a Friend of Mine" you hear the struggle of conscience overtake pride and position.
To those that think they will (or those that did) hear Betrayal, Danger, Denial, Selfishness, and Smashed Hopes, I heard my own conventionalities shatter their confines and expand. For me, the stories spoke gently that the glass, no matter how much it contains, has capacity. We are "Multitudes," and for a few brief stories, Adam Johnson was "the poet of the soul."
37 of 41 people found this review helpful
By Darwin8u on 09-26-15
Blown away by every single page and every story
These stories BREAK me. Johnson pulls each story's string to the point of breaking and then plays them beautifully with precision and dexterity. 'Interesting Facts' about crushed me -- so good. Blown away by every single page and every story. Seriously, I might just have to put back on my white shirt and name badge from my 19 yo missionary days and go door-to-door evangelizing about Adam Johnson's book. "Have you read Adam Johnson?" "I know Adam Johnson is True." "A man get nearer to God by reading Adam Johnson's short-stories than any other fiction writer, save perhaps McCarthy". Oh, fine. That is probably an exaggeration, but still, GOD, these stories were amazing. Scary even. Like being transported to a foreign land and buried alive. He captures the language of the other and once you get on his train there is no getting off. OK. Perhaps again I am exaggerating. Perhaps, I am caught up in a convert's euphoria. But I'm not new to Adam Johnson. I've read The Orphan Master's Son and loved that too.
The narrations were perfect too. Each one balanced the art of reading with the dance of drama. They never crowded the stories with their voices, but supported the stories and made them each unique.
35 of 40 people found this review helpful