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)
This is one of the best I have listened to - among the top three, I would say.
Where do I start? First, I love how well researched it is. I learned something (a lot, actually) about North Korea while being engrossed in a complex, human story. I really cared about the characters and did not want the book to end. I love how it folds back on itself without ever straining to do so. The conclusion is satisfying in a weird way, but feels like the only possible one.
The various narrators help one understand the structure of the story beautifully, and each is a stellar performance.
In North Korea, the stories you tell are more important than the man you are.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. A great read, a great listen and one of the most engrossing, transporting tales I have read in a long, long, time. I'll be telling all my friends to read this one.
Yes, I would listen to the book again. It is extremely rich and all the elements are woven together so skillfully that I think repeated listens will always show something new.
The author made the characters very lifelike, which is all the more surprising given the horrific context.
The events in Texas were my favorite, primarily because the characters were not in mortal danger while they were there.
It didn't make me laugh or cry, but it has stayed with me. It comes back at odd moments. I often think (and grieve) about the people in North Korea when I am doing something normal for us but completely foreign to them - like riding an escalator in Macy's.
This book deserves all the accolades it is receiving. It is a remarkable achievement.
There are 3 narrators to this book and each is told by a different reader which helps so much. I love it when audio books do that! This book is crazy (in a good way). It leaves you with a heavy feeling because this isn't a book about something that happened long ago - this book is about a country that is existing like this now. Crazy. Its a must listen to book.
incredible story and narration
the use of multiple narrators was done to great affect in this audiobook. one of the real pleasures of listening to a story is the chance to take in the dialect and cadence of a text -to hear places name spoken in the local accent, a person's name, and so on.
this book has given me a ground level context into the life in N.Korea that I think would be hard to capture in any other medium
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.
"Brilliant story about a brutal place"
One of the best books I've heard. I'd listened to 'Nothing to Envy' about North Korea but this book is even better at giving an insight into this dystopian country. It reminded me of the bits of 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell which are set in the future, though this is terrifyingly present. It's in two parts - the first part immerses you in the life of the orphan master's son and is beautiful and bleak, plotted at breakneck speed like 'The History of Tom Jones' set in 1984. The second part is more fantastical and unlikely, reading like a thriller and a love story and utterly compelling. I think if you like David Mitchell, or 'The Sisters Brothers' or 'Nothing to Envy' then you'll like this. Highly recommended- a book I couldnt stop listening to.
"Incredible beginning, less convincing second part"
The first part of the book is as incredibly captivating depiction of the lives of the main characters in the isolated, oppressive country of North Korea. The story is beautifully written, at times almost poetically, at times with such authenticity of the portrayal of the most intimate thoughts and feelings, that I found it breathtaking and could not stop listen often late to the night. What in my opinion also adds a deeper dimension to the first part of the book is that at times it is based on real historical events, such as the period of famine or the abductions of several people from Japan. These events, and the way they formed people are described with such accuracy, and so realistically, that it provided a very powerful glimpse into the lives of people in this country, which so little is known about.
However, in the second part, the books becomes a lot more surreal. The main character begins to impersonate a well known North Korean war hero, part of the story begins to take place at a very 'high-tech' torture units, with detailed descriptions of torture equipment and techniques, which do not sound very believable, the late leader, Kim Jong-il is depicted almost as a comical caricature.
Personally, I was not very fond of this switch, from a very genuine and authentic, to almost a science-fiction style. I found it a lot less enjoyable form the literary style point of view, as well as confusing, as it almost had a feel of 'pro-US propaganda' and I fear that it may be misleading for some readers.
Still, the first part of the book was superb, and the book was definitely well worth the listen just for that!
"Compelling, disturbing, brutal!"
This is an excellent recording of a gripping tale based on a living hell.
Due to some of the graphic detail and prolonged brutality I chose to read this book in bite-size chunks.
The Orphan Master's Son caused me to repeatedly think about the plight of those living in oppressive conditions and circumstances where individual freedom is crushed. This book is universal in its message to humanity.
"Disturbing but fascinating"
The story was utterly fascinating.. never read anything like it. I realize it's a fictional novel but omg, if North Korea is anything like it is described in this book gods help those poor souls who dwell within! Very well written and gripping story telling.
Certainly. There is so much in this book, there will be things that I missed.
Some novels win prizes for reasons that remain unknown to the reader, but in this case it’s clear why this book won the Pulizter: the setting is so compelling and mostly unknown to the everyday person, that it alone pulls you through the story. Is it well written? Not particularly. Is it a masterpiece? Certainly not. At time confusing and repetitive, the narration slows down in several points, marking this as a pretty boring book to get through, with characters that blend into one and a prose that remains pretty ordinary. I stuck with it to a predictable ending, and managed to skip 3 chapters towards the end and still know exactly what was going on- this novel needs some pretty severe editing. It’s not a book I would recommend, but if you’re a patient reader with a curiosity for North Korea, read on.
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