The Orphan Master’s Son: Gaining freedom where little is to spare

The Orphan Master's SonBefore starting The Orphan Master’s Son by American Adam Johnson, I had heard some buzz on Twitter, and did a quick search on Goodreads to see that quite a few people really enjoyed it. Good enough for me!

The book is set in North Korea and through the eyes of a couple citizens looks at the power the state has on its people, as well as the propaganda it spreads to keep that control.

Throughout the book we largely follow Jun Do who was raised as an orphan, though secretly his father was the Orphan Master (hence the title). As he grows older he has several different jobs for the state, including a kidnapper of Japenese citizens, then as English language spy on a fishing boat. Through a turn of events he finds his way to America on a delegation trip to Texas. After returning, everything changes after he is sent to prison mines for a crime unbeknownst to him.

Without getting into too many spoilers, the rest of the book flips to feature Commander Ga, Kim Jong Il’s great foe, and shows how, as mentioned, the State has so much power over its people that even identities can be changed based on the approval of the Great Leader. Throughout, we’re also told a propaganda story that interestingly mirrors the actual story being told, but obviously in a light that favours the government. This is an effective way to show how the message can be changed to convey one thing, even when everyone is living a completely different reality. How the government can control its people is by far the most interesting aspect of the book for me, though I’m not entirely sure how much is overly exaggerated and how much resembles the truth in some way.

Normally this isn’t the type of book I’d find myself reading, but I’m glad I did as it had brilliant writing, interesting characters, and Johnson really allowed you to get inside their head and believe this all could have happened. I give The Orphan Master’s Son a 5/5.

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Tim Thomas sits out team visit to White House

Boston Bruins visit President ObamaI like Tim Thomas. He’s a passionate hockey player and has proven that he can lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship. I also like that we North Americans live in a society where we can (generally) have control of our own life and have the opportunity to choose whether we want to participate in an event or not.

When I read the article on Thomas choosing to not attend the photo op with the President due to his personal “opinions and political beliefs” according to team president Cam Neely, I first thought he was being petty. Why wouldn’t he show up to a non-partisan photo op? Each winning team in the major sports leagues does it, and on a smaller scale he’s creating a distraction that I’m sure his team could do without.

Looking online, fans on Thomas’s and the Boston Bruins‘ Facebook pages passionately share congrats with him or anger at his actions. Based on those updates, the boycott has polarized his fan base to the extreme. One such fan, an American living in Finland, wrote an open letter to Thomas about his actions. Here’s a paragraph that stood out:

“Today, i lost respect for you as a person. It’s not because we have different political views, because you have a right to your opinion, but because you couldn’t find it in yourself to be the bigger man and say “thank you” to someone you disagree with when all theyw ere tyring to do was a nice thing. It makes me question how you’d treat a fan, like me, if I wanted you’re autograph and I was wearing an Obama t-shirt.” [SIC]

As people formed their opinions about him, Thomas remained mum on the reason why he declined the offer. That is until about 6pm when he chose to explain himself via his Facebook page, well after the word started spreading. Here’s what he had to say:

Tim Thomas Facebook

As you can see, Thomas noted the boycott wasn’t based on politics or party, but as a criticism of the way government operates and treats Americans, as a whole. I have to admit I didn’t expect that, and was conflicted.

The vibe I get from his update is reminiscent of the ‘Occupy movement’, which I fully stand behind. Like many others, I was going on the angle that he was opposed to Obama’s administration, which he’s entitled to, but it also seemed like a petty reason to not attend the simple event. Even though I now understand why, I still feel he could have made the effort to show up for his team. There’s more he could do to protest government, with the platform he has.

One of the reasons I waited to post this is that I wanted to see what he had to say. I think he should have come out with his reasoning immediately because the speculative comments have tarnished the day for his teammates and himself. There were many terrible comments directed his way, but TSN’s Dave Hodge tweeted this libelous gem stood out the most because he basically calls Thomas a racist:

Twitter Dave HodgeIt’s a clear example of why you should hold off on your commentary until you have the facts, and in this case, Hodge should know better and not have tweeted that garbage at any time. A search for @TSNDaveHodge name on Twitter at least shows many are giving it to him good; let’s hope he apologizes to Thomas and his family.

As for Thomas, since it wasn’t a mandatory team event, he likely won’t be suspended for his actions, but I wonder if this will impact the way his teammates think of him? How did you feel about Tim Thomas’s decision to not show up at the White House, and once you knew why, did your opinion change?

Review of The Best Laid Plans and The High Road

The Best Laid PlansThe High RoadSince I read both The Best Laid Plans and The High Road by Terry Fallis back-to-back, I’ve decided to give a 2-for-1 review.

In the first book, we’re introduced to Daniel Addison, who through a series of unfortunate events, decides to leave Ottawa politics. One condition of his career change to professor, is that he must find a Liberal candidate in his extremely Conservative riding just outside of Ottawa.

After a long search and a lot of persuasion, Daniel convinces the grizzly professor, Angus McLintock to run (in name only) for the spot. Much to the dismay of both men, Angus comes into power and Daniel has to jump back into the fold of politics as his campaign manager, though this time his stay in Ottawa is anything but ordinary.

Angus is a great character in the sense that he has no favours to return, no hidden agenda and wants to actually do what’s best for Canada – imagine that! It’s funny to picture this grumpy, hairy Scotsman in his 60s causing such a ruckus in Parliament, but it’s also refreshing. What I loved both about the books is for a few hundred pages I could actually picture a politician not caring about his own personal agenda. After a few painful Federal, Provincial and Municipal voter turnouts it made me wonder if people would actually start feeling positive about politics again if the majority of candidates were like Angus. Don’t think that’ll ever happen though.

In this National Post article from February 2011, CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi sums up what makes the story so compelling:

“This is a book that speaks to the frustration and the disenfranchisement of people all across the world right now. We’re seeing it playing out. All people want is fairness in democracy. We’re not as bad off as other societies are, but we are certainly in a place where people don’t think they’re heard by their elected officials. This book speaks to all of those people and says to people ‘You have an opportunity to be heard.’”

While I did enjoy both storylines, the first with Angus getting into politics and the second with him running for a snap re-election, I did have a few concerns.

It was too clean: Every issue the McLintock team faced always seemed to have a convenient solution, or something tended to work in their favour completely by chance.

Too much exaggeration: Would Canadians really care about every little thing that was going down in this small riding? Yes, the politician was a wacky character who made for great TV, but I could never picture national coverage going to a little town’s election results, or the United States President hearing about him and wanting to make a visit.

Grammar Police: The grammar corrections were kind of funny to begin with but it got played out real quick. I get it was just how their characters were, and I respect that, but that type of person really grinds my gears.

Overall I enjoyed the books. They were easy reads and I’m happy Terry is having success (CBC is making The Best Laid Plans into a miniseries – my vote is for Paul Gross to play Daniel and Brendan Gleeson to play Angus), but I’ve come to the conclusion that I humor in novels just isn’t for me. I give each book a 3.5/5.

The Ides of March and Integrity in Politics

Ryan Gosling

A political movie about integrity? You can see this won’t end well…

The Ides of March doesn’t involve too much politicking, but focuses on the integrity in politics. We’re introduced to Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a staffer on Governor Mike Morris’ (George Clooney) campaign team, as they Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are running for the Democratic leadership. Morris is (in my view) the ideal candidate who appears to run on a higher moral ground and the same can be said for Meyers, who has some experience, but is generally not as jaded as his campaign brethren. He stands up for his candidate and after one seemingly innocent meeting in a bar with the other candidate’s chief campaign guy, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), things begin spiraling out of control.

Both Meyers and Gov. Morris begin the movie with a lot of integrity, but as certain events come to light, we see them descend in to not so moral grounds. Morris, in public, is the same affable guy you’d want to run your country, but behind closed doors he’s the  opposite. With Meyers though, his descent is thrust upon him like a disease as he tries to make things right for the Governor. Fighting for his career, he’s caught between a rock and hard place and you can see him become jaded as things got out of hand. I enjoyed the last scene as the movie leaves the audience with with the question, will he continue down the path he’s on, or will he stand up for what he believed in so strongly at the beginning?

When it came to character development, the movie did a wonderful job, but the pace was incredibly slow at times and some dialogue was tough to get through. Up until the characters started their decline and I understood where the plot was going, I wasn’t all that interested in it. Once it did pick up though, I ended up enjoying it for what it was, even though it wasn’t normally something that I’d watch. I give The Ides of March a 3/5.

Adiga brings it with Between the Assassinations

Between the Assassinations

If you have read The White Tiger, you won’t be disappointed Aravind Adiga‘s followup, Between the Assassinations. Adiga takes his readers to the fictional coastal city of Kittur in Southwest India and gives a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of some of its residents.

The stories in the book take place “between the assassinations” of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son (who became prime minister in 1984) Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. While the city and the people may be made up, the issues they face are very real for those in India. The book deals with everything from issues of caste, sexual disease, drug problems, political corruption, the influx of villagers seeking a better life in the city, and much more.

Coming in to the novel I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get into it, due to the jumping from one short story to the next. Fortunately, Adiga managed to write compelling stories with strong characters and I was hooked on the majority of them. The one criticism I can point out was that there didn’t feel like any conclusion or tying up of loose ends, which I’m so used to. I understand it was a glimpse into the daily lives and not meant to be a long tale, but some cases they felt clipped and left me wanting more (in a bad way).

If you decide to read Between the Assassinations, it’s great for travel or the daily commute into work. You’ll be able to read each story and feel a small sense of accomplishment each time you finish a story.

I’m happy Adiga’s sophomore output wasn’t a disappointment, as many are, so I’m anticipating his next release, which I hope comes sooner rather than later. I give Between the Assassinations a 4/5.

Have you read it? Let me know what you thought.

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