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The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel of North Korea | [Adam Johnson]

The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel of North Korea

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother - a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang - and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2013

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother - a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang - and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.

From the Hardcover edition.

©2011 Adam Johnson (P)2011 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

  • Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • “An addictive novel of daring ingenuity, a study of sacrifice and freedom in a citizen-eating dynasty, and a timely reminder that anonymous victims of oppression are also human beings who love - The Orphan Master’s Son is a brave and impressive book.” (David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet)

    “I’ve never read anything like it. This is truly an amazing reading experience, a tremendous accomplishment. I could spend days talking about how much I love this book. It sounds like overstatement, but no. The Orphan Master’s Son is a masterpiece.” (Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children)

    “Adam Johnson has pulled off literary alchemy, first by setting his novel in North Korea, a country that few of us can imagine, then by producing such compelling characters, whose lives unfold at breakneck speed. I was engrossed right to the amazing conclusion. The result is pure gold, a terrific novel.” (Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (1070 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Susan San Dimas, CA, United States 11-22-12
    Susan San Dimas, CA, United States 11-22-12 Member Since 2009
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    "A MUST READ"
    What did you love best about The Orphan Master's Son?

    The best thing about the Orphan Master's Son is that makes you understand how a totalitarian regime controls its people and at the same time, how the human spirit cannot be destroyed. There have been suggestions as to how desperate the lives of North Koreans have become but just as information about life in Nazi Germany was reported over and over, no one could truly understand it until the American Army reached Dachau.The author makes every detail of life real and absorbing and the gradual transition of the "hero" from unthinking robot of the regime to a loving, self-sacrificing human being is totally believable.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Orphan Master's Son?

    I have heard that the difference between North and South Korea can be seen clearly at night when North Korea goes black. I have seen pictures of it, but have never thought deeply about what life must be like in blacked out cities and towns. The author makes every aspect of daily life believable. I am writing this review the night before Thanksgiving and this book certainly gives those of us who live in freedom, a reason to give thanks.


    Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I have never heard any other book by these narrators; the book is performed by three very effective narrators. The transition from one to another is totally seamless and they are all believable and absorbing.


    If you could take any character from The Orphan Master's Son out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    I would like to go to dinner with the Senator and his wife; to know what he knew about the hero's role in the recovery of the American rower.


    Any additional comments?

    I had read good reviews of this book but still thought it might be dreary; it is not. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in politics and the human psyche.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    SF Gal San Francisco, CA 08-22-12
    SF Gal San Francisco, CA 08-22-12 Member Since 2012
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    14
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    "This book is a must listen - readers are wonderful"
    If you could sum up The Orphan Master's Son in three words, what would they be?

    Importance of identity


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    I loved the main character, Pak Jun Do. He was someone you wanted to believe in and wanted to find happiness. He was also seen as a human being with flaws but always trying to do the right thing. I loved how he always told the truth - even when his responses seemed like he wasn't.


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I can't say enough about how wonderful the narrators are. I loved that there were multiple narrators; they brought the characters to life and really added to the story. I loved Tim Kang's voice and want to find out what other books he has narrated. I feel like I had the best experience listening to this book and not just reading it.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I walked away from this book with such a sense of wonder and awe at the North Korean culture. You can't help but wonder if this is really true because of the brutal and inhumane way people are treated. Adam Johnson really did an excellent job of showing the lack of identity in this culture and how individuals have little worth but for the work they do.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lyn LADY LAKE, FL, United States 06-05-12
    Lyn LADY LAKE, FL, United States 06-05-12 Member Since 2007

    Tell us about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "big surprise"

    I was amazed how much this book captured my thoughts, it wasn't a subject I had ever considered but the author persued a culture and a way of life and existance that is totally alien to me. However the humanity was the same as anywhere else. Very well drawn characters, Forrest Gump set of various political and social situations but NO humor. I would highly recommend it to someone who wants a very different experience.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gordon portola valley, CA, United States 06-04-12
    Gordon portola valley, CA, United States 06-04-12 Member Since 2009
    ratings
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    114
    3
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    "Extraordinary"

    Adam Johnson is a fantastic writer, in the full sense of the word. I look forward to his next book.

    Ann Gordon

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    marilyn LAPEER, MI, United States 05-06-12
    marilyn LAPEER, MI, United States 05-06-12 Member Since 2003
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    "Absolutely moving. Did not want it to end"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Have recommended this book to many who agree with me...


    What did you like best about this story?

    So amazing the courage of the character to continue..


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    Excellent in all ways..


    Any additional comments?

    This story really touched me. Not having much knowledge of the country, it has given me a thirst for more.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    nevina Roxbury, CT, United States 04-29-12
    nevina Roxbury, CT, United States 04-29-12 Member Since 2006

    nevina

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A nightmarish world."

    With its varying protagonists , shifting tenses and non linear timeline this wasn't the easiest read. Not having visited North Korea i cant say for sure but it seems to me that Adam Johnson did a good job of depicting life there. I felt chilled and disorientated many times. It was a compelling but nightmarish read. I'm glad to leave that world.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anastasia forest hills, NY, United States 04-20-12
    Anastasia forest hills, NY, United States 04-20-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Very Interesting Book!!"
    Where does The Orphan Master's Son rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I listen to a lot of audiobooks..and this book would probably be in my top 7. But i wouldn't read it again anytime soon because of the horrors of North Korea that book describes in a very graphic way.


    If you could take any character from The Orphan Master's Son out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    All the hungry people


    Any additional comments?

    Give it a try...When you first start to listen to this book, you would probably think that its very boring and not interesting at all. Do not worry it gets a lot better after 6 chapters.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff manhattan beach, ca, United States 04-16-12
    Jeff manhattan beach, ca, United States 04-16-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Excellent story & satire"
    What made the experience of listening to The Orphan Master's Son the most enjoyable?

    Enjoyed the author's exploration into not only the politics, but also the people of North Korea.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LookoutSF NC 04-13-12
    LookoutSF NC 04-13-12 Member Since 2012

    deer

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    "Unusual story and informative"
    Would you listen to The Orphan Master's Son again? Why?

    This is a very unusual book that tells the story of a young man, from his start as an apparent orphan, though his manhood while living in North Korea where the political environment causes an altered reality. What is said is not true, but no one can discuss the truth. There are several narrators, all are unreliable. Along the way, one learns quite a bit about North Korea, at least what can be learned by one living outside that country.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Well written


    Which character – as performed by the narrators – was your favorite?

    Some characters have foreign accents, presumably Korean and this is problematic for some listeners, though I found it added to the authenticity of the book.


    Who was the most memorable character of The Orphan Master's Son and why?

    The lead character was the most memorable, but several others are unusual and interesting, such as the torturer. Evil people are not usually sympathetically portrayed, especially from their point of view and without excuses (for instance, there was no suggestion that this character had a bad childhood, at least in North Korean terms).


    Any additional comments?

    Listening to this book will help the listener understand current events in North Korea better. You will not forget this one.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eric Rockville, MD, United States 04-03-12
    Eric Rockville, MD, United States 04-03-12 Member Since 2005

    Middlemarch, Middlesex, Middlebrow

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disappointed"

    The book starts well, with a convincing setting, taut narrative, and the beginnings of character development, but then wanders aimlessly off into fantasy and gratuitous plot gimmicks.

    I enjoyed the accents and prosody of the apparently Korean narrators, but the good production is wasted on this mediocre novel.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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