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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Importance of identity
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.
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.
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.
Tell us about yourself!
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.
Adam Johnson is a fantastic writer, in the full sense of the word. I look forward to his next book.
Have recommended this book to many who agree with me...
So amazing the courage of the character to continue..
Excellent in all ways..
This story really touched me. Not having much knowledge of the country, it has given me a thirst for more.
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.
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.
All the hungry people
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.
Enjoyed the author's exploration into not only the politics, but also the people of North Korea.
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.
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.
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).
Listening to this book will help the listener understand current events in North Korea better. You will not forget this one.
Middlemarch, Middlesex, Middlebrow
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.
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