Adam Johnson: “Everyone who deals with them eventually gets burned.”

Somewhere, the world’s smallest violin is playing a Samuel Barber adagio for Walter Keats, who whines, not about the North Koreans who shut down his tour business after he spent years coddling and enriching them, but about Adam Johnson for writing a Pulitzer Prize winning novel:

Between 2006 and 2012, Walter Keats led dozens of tours as president of Asia Pacific Travel. By 2012, after building trust with North Korean officials, Keats and his wife were permitted to lead groups year-round.

Then, without explanation, Keats and his wife were denied entry. He believes his blacklisting was punishment for organizing a tour for Adam Johnson, a professor of creative writing at Stanford University who was doing research for “The Orphan Master’s Son,” a novel set in North Korea that was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book contains an irreverent portrayal of the late leader Kim Jong Il, which may have upset the North Korean government.

“The way the [North Korean] system works, somebody has to get punished for any kind of transgression that takes place,” Keats said.

Johnson said he has no way of knowing whether his novel was the cause of Keats’ banishment. “I truly hope not. From my sense of it, everyone who deals with them eventually gets burned,” he said in an email. [L.A. Times, Steven Borowiec]

For Keats to blame Adam Johnson for ruining his tour business is like blaming Harriet Beecher Stowe for driving up the price of cotton. Surely Keats does not mean to suggest that his clients should submit to the permanent, extraterritorial jurisdiction of North Korean censorship to protect his profits. Come of think of it, that could be the premise for another half-decent book.

Perhaps unintentionally, Johnson does suggest one potentially effective strategy for sabotaging the North Korea slumming industry. The plan isn’t without its flaws. Not only does a talented writer have to travel to North Korea, but he also has to come back to write about it.

1 Comment

  1. “For Keats to blame Adam Johnson for ruining his tour business is like blaming Harriet Beecher Stowe for driving up the price of cotton.”

    Brilliant.
    (Also brilliant: Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son” )




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