By Adam Johnson
320 pages; Random House
The winner that blows your mind — and opens your heart
This story collection — and winner of the National Book Award in fiction — is full of characters that challenge and perplex. They are not like you, probably — and yet, as a reader, you feel compelled to find out what drives them. In the title piece, two North Korean defectors miss their rigid homeland. Later, a former East German prison warden dreams of his old job tormenting citizens; a father tries to reassemble his family after being whipsawed by Hurricane Katrina; and, an ailing woman takes strange comfort in a hologram of the President. Expect emotional intelligence from these characters, yes. But also humor. “I appreciate democracy, freedom and the variety of television programming,” says a North Korean defector resettling in Seoul. “But I do miss how dark it used to get.” A smart, surprising read.
— Mark Athitakis
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME