Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson (AP)

NEW YORK -- With a Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week, Adam Johnson's "The Orphan Master's Son," a labyrinthine story of a man's travails in North Korea, restored a high literary honor a year after no fiction award was given.

Pulitzer judges praised Johnson's book as "an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart."

It was the third book by the 45-year-old Johnson, who teaches creative writing at Stanford University.

2012 decision rankled

Booksellers and publishers had been surprised and angered in 2012 when Pulitzer officials decided for the first time in decades not to give a fiction prize, which usually results in a quick and sustained boost in sales.

Louise Erdrich's "The Round House," Ben Fountain's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" and Kevin Powers' "The Yellow Birds," also received strong attention in the fiction category last week.

Johnson's novel was one of three works with Asian themes to win Pulitzers. Ayad Akhtar's "Disgraced," the story of a successful Pakistani-American lawyer whose dinner party goes out of control, won for drama and Fredrik Logevall's "Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam," for history.

Logevall and Johnson also shared the same publisher, Random House; and same editor, David Ebershoff.

Logevall said that he worked on his book for 11 years, "missed a deadline or two," but that he was glad he had the time to "make sure everything was just right.


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"My editor (Ebershoff) was very patient with me," Logevall said.

The biography winner was Tom Reiss' "The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo."

Gilbert King's "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America" won for general nonfiction and Sharon Olds' "Stag's Leap" for poetry.

Four of the five books to win Pulitzers were published by divisions of Random House, Inc., which also released two of the most acclaimed books of 2012 not to receive awards: Robert Caro's latest Lyndon Johnson biography, "The Passage of Power"; and Katherine Boo's "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," a finalist in the general nonfiction category and winner of the National Book Award. The award for criticism was given to Philip Kennecott of The Washington Post.