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Johnson named finalist for National Book Critics Circle

Adam Johnson, associate professor of English, received a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination Monday for his second novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son.”

His work is among five finalists up for the fiction award. It joins Laurent Binet’s “HHhH,” Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Lydia Millet’s “Magnificence” and Zadie Smith’s “NW.”

The winner will be announced on Feb. 28 in New York City.

“The Orphan Master’s Son” — a novel revolving around an orphan who becomes a soldier patrolling the tunnels beneath the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea — has received rave reviews since its release last January. Publications such as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly and Salon have named the novel as one of the best books of 2012.

“This is a novel worth getting excited about, one which more than delivers on its pre-publication buzz,” wrote Dave Ignatius for The Washington Post. “This complex, multi-voiced narrative testifies to Johnson’s standing as a professor of creative writing at Stanford. And his mosaic, puzzle-solving way of storytelling will remind some of David Mitchell, author of the similarly inventive ‘Cloud Atlas.’”

The National Book Critics Circle Award intends to “honor the best literature published in the United States,” according to its website. Past winners have included Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” in 2010, Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” in 2007, Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses” in 1992, Philip Roth’s “The Counterlife” in 1987 and Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” in 1977.

Johnson spoke to The Daily in May about his six years of research and drafting for the novel, including a six-day visit to Pyongyang.

“I knew exactly what to expect there physically … but nothing can prepare you psychologically for a world without spontaneity, a world of complete order and conformity,” Johnson said about his trip to North Korea.

“You really feel people weigh everything they say ahead of time for all possible consequences,” he added. “You got the sense of the way the people you’ve interacted [with] have digested censorship to the degree that they are their own censors.”