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
“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)
I could not finish this book. It was joyless and harsh. Be forewarned that this is a story from a brutal land, North Korea, where one's ability to withstand physical and mental anguish is the mark of a man. You will not be spared.
With little information about North Korea, I was enthralled to delve into the lives of the different characters. While the book played to my interest in this unknown nation, I felt that the story itself was a little jumbled. It constantly flipped between past, present and future, often with little warning. I am curious if the story would have felt more cohesive if I had read the book instead of listened to it. While the different time periods sometimes made the story feel dense, overall it was a good book that I would recommend to those interested in the culture and individuals of North Korea.
Say something about yourself!
I appreciated the insight into North Korea. The main character had such integrity for someone who came from such dire conditions. I was happy, happy, happy after reading the happy ending.
Cutting for Stone is also about a boy from a restrictive culture who had integrity and the drive to succeed. I would also compare Goldfiinch, in that that boy had a fairly normal start in life but was a liar and a thief from the time he was young, even before his mother died.
No I have not listened to any others.
The main character and Moon Sun.
I would love to read a sequel.
No need at this point to discuss the plot. An alien culture yet universal human appeal. Compelling plot yet frequent revulsion and disgust. Outstanding narration too. May not be everyone's cup of tea, but a worthy prize winner for a simultaneous punch to the brain and heart.
Everyone's heaping praise on this book, and it got a Pulitzer I think, so I picked it up, hoping for a great story.
For one thing, it was often hard for me to understand the narrator.
Another problem is that the narrative seems to jump around without enough cues to let me know what's happening. I had a very difficult time following it.
It may be a cultural disconnect on my part, but I just had the hardest time understanding what people were doing, and why they were acting the way they were. Many times things that were happening just didn't seem to make any sense to me.
I stopped listening about 3/4 or maybe 4/5 in. Just couldn't stay interested.
An intricate novel of "the most democratic nation on Earth-North Korea." The author weaves a tale of conflict, lies, deception and human nature. Well worth the read.
Pak was portrayed as having so many facets and experiences.
The narrators bring depth to the characters.
Commander Ga was the most memorable because of his cruelty.
The story, the view into North Korea
The performance, the story, and the details of life in North Korea were all great.
Expect nothing...appreciate everything.
Yes, I have already recommended to friends.
I could not anticipate any of this. The story captivated me! I replayed portions of this book just to be able to wrap my mind around the circumstances described in the story. Loved the entire story.
Not sure, the story was very interesting but I did not read it.
Yes. Many moments in this book were quite moving. An entire nation held captive. Uncertainty of situation, status and even family loyalty.
This tells a gruesome tale of a life most of us cannot imagine... but it is told with such style and even moment of humor.
There is a visit to Texas by the Koreans that is priceless...
The dialogue by someone very comfortable with Korean makes so much of it easier to understand and visualize.
A difficult start with the grim details but a beautifully woven tale of perseverance and determination.
This is a monumental work of contemporary historical fiction. It works as a character study, spy thriller, and expose of the world's most reclusive country. I found the details of North Korean life - the privations, the omnipresent "Big Brotherish" intrusions by the state into every facet of life, and the duplicitous goings on of the power brokers and their minions to be utterly fascinating. The author's brief interview at the end sheds a lot of welcome light on how he managed to paint such a credible portrait of the North Korean state. I also have to give him credit for the audacity to put Kim Jong Il front and center as one of the main characters. In some ways, this book reminded me of the Arkady Renko novels of Martin Cruz Smith and will appeal to those who like their fiction set in lands both mysterious and unfathomable. The superb narration adds rather than detracts from the story which is unusual for this genre IMO. This book is not to be missed!
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