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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 (1084 )
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4.4 (939 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Sonoma 04-01-12
    Sonoma 04-01-12 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Insight into a very dark place"
    What made the experience of listening to The Orphan Master's Son the most enjoyable?

    Author did a terrific job of taking the facts about a truly weird country and weaving them into a believable and exciting story. I enjoyed every minute of it.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    A very fine narrator. Gave the book a lot of punch and drama.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Raleigh, NC, United States 02-20-12
    James Raleigh, NC, United States 02-20-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A disappointment"
    What did you like best about The Orphan Master's Son? What did you like least?

    Overall, this long-anticipated work was a disappointment, The quality of the narration was almost amateurish - why use narrators with Korean accents? - very distracting from the plot and story line. The author had a wealth of information on which to build a story line (life in North Korea), but squandered it by using a meandering story line and confusing characters. I wouldn't recommend this work to anyone - sorry!


    Would you be willing to try another book from Adam Johnson? Why or why not?

    No


    Would you be willing to try another one of the narrators’s performances?

    Absolutely not - these narrators are far from the quality I would expect from audible.


    Do you think The Orphan Master's Son needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    Overall - a real disappointment

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fred LAKE OSWEGO, OR, United States 01-27-12
    fred LAKE OSWEGO, OR, United States 01-27-12 Member Since 2010

    I'm Trying to see the world with my ears.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson!"

    The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson!
    I read a lot. I read a diverse cross-section of fiction. And I am telling you that I have NEVER read anything like Adam Johnson's novel, The Orphan Master's Son. And I'll cut to the chase here and tell you that it knocked my socks right off!

    The novel is the story of Pak Jun Do, the eponymous orphan master's son. Jun Do spends the novel explaining to people that despite his orphan's name and upbringing in an orphanage, that he is not an orphan. Although he is not parented well, or for long. "All orphans are destined for the Army eventually. But this was how Jun Do, at fourteen, became a tunnel soldier, trained in the art of zero-light combat."

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joan Rice, VA, United States 03-19-12
    Joan Rice, VA, United States 03-19-12 Member Since 2001

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Don't waste your credit"

    After reading many of the reviews on this book, I couldn't wait to listen to it. For the life of me, I can't understand the rave reviews. Like one listener said, the first download was decent then it was downhill from there. I enjoy a good story and never mind a slower pace. But this......total boredom. The middle section was totally disjointed and the ending (although I'm about 1/2 through the 3rd download) can't come soon enough. At this point, the fault is mine for continuing to listen. This is the first and last thing I'll read by this author.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Meagan vR Ohio 03-09-12
    Meagan vR Ohio 03-09-12 Member Since 2010

    I collect spores, molds, and fungus.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Plotless and Uninteresting"

    This book had an interesting sounding plot and the setting was intriguing. It started off well with the premise of a N. Korean defector, but that storyline ends quickly and uneventfully. Then hours of boredom. Then another interesting storyline about a woman he meets and obviously cares for, probably 25 minutes and its over. Then more boredom. This book had amazing potential for a different and interesting story of Communist North Korea in the style of Lisa See, but it completely fell flat. The narrator was also apparently bored to tears. Monotone, quiet, and slow, the narrator would be an insomniacs best friend bc he be would right to sleep. Sucks that I wasted money on this blah book. I'm not even going to bother finishing it.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colorado-reader Boulder, Co USA 09-14-13
    Colorado-reader Boulder, Co USA 09-14-13 Member Since 2012

    Tell the story

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "THE Most Important Fiction You will EVER Read!"
    Would you listen to The Orphan Master's Son again? Why?

    Yes. Absolutely. It's important to remember that evil is dangerous and does exist in humans and their governments; those who believe that "making nice" with evil will bring the world to peace are naive, and perhaps equally as dangerous.


    What other book might you compare The Orphan Master's Son to and why?

    The Gulag Archipelago was arguably as important, but the Orphan Master's Son is much more engaging and easily read. Read it as non-fiction. Then think twice about chemical weapons.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The scenes portraying the families' fear of each other within the family. The scenes of North Koreans holding themselves as superior to all others and stealing citizens of other countries. These are not folk tales.
    My own father told me these stories in the mid-1970s as an explanation as to why we should NEVER have a treaty with North Korea. I was a naive "Peace-nic" and thought he must be exaggerating.
    He was an intelligence officer (translate: spy) who won metals for discovering the very secret tunnels used as described in this book.


    If you could rename The Orphan Master's Son, what would you call it?

    The Other Reality. Yes, they really do believe that all other countries are evil and inferior. They also have no qualms about destroying each and every one of us.


    Any additional comments?

    Please know that I was tear-gassed during Viet-Nam war protests and do not regret it. That said, this book should be read by every American and citizen of the free world. These people are dangerous. Adam Johnson has an important message for us and we should take it very seriously.
    This book deserves the awards it received!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beau Tucson, AZ, United States 06-22-13
    Beau Tucson, AZ, United States 06-22-13 Member Since 2009
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    "fekt very uncomfortable"
    Would you try another book from Adam Johnson and/or the narrators?

    maybe, would depend on thetopic


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    Finding out about the psyche and practices of Korea


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Wheh the main character defies the "Dear Leader"


    Do you think The Orphan Master's Son needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    mo roo violent. I had o stip reading it. Too many violent images of heinous crimes


    Any additional comments?

    Well written and suspenseful

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ron Hilo, HI, United States 06-17-13
    Ron Hilo, HI, United States 06-17-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Sanctimonious author produces a sadistic narrative"
    Would you try another book from Adam Johnson and/or the narrators?

    No. I certainly agree that North Korea is a terrible and oppressive regime, but it cannot have been accurately portrayed in this depressing story.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Something cheerful.


    What three words best describe the narrators’s voice?

    Several narrators, and they were good at their jobs.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Depression. I'm sure life in North Korea is bad, but this is not an accurate depiction; it's a horror story. The author gives an "Afterward" in which he pompously talks about how his fiction depicts (his thoughts about) what life is really like. I don't buy it. His imaginary scenes of torture and masochism are his own fantasy. I'm glad he had fun, but only a few readers are likely to share his pleasures. (Together with those whose hatred for North Korea leads them to take pleasure in this kind of fairy tale.)


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    carol Durham, New Caledonia 05-24-13
    carol Durham, New Caledonia 05-24-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Just absolutely GREAT !"
    Would you listen to The Orphan Master's Son again? Why?

    Yes, and I bought the CD for my son. Though dark in the beginning, keep going and you will be rewarded with a great novel, and the very best performances of reading ever.


    What other book might you compare The Orphan Master's Son to and why?

    Maybe SHOGUN, if they could get great performers to record it too.


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

    The narrators bring all the DIFFERENT accents of the Korean culture as well as the different accents of the Americans in the story. There are just a few well placed sound effects as well. You will not forget this story for a long long time.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Winner of the 2013 PULITIZER PRIZE in FICTION.


    Any additional comments?

    I read a LOT and this was one of the best books I've read in the 57 years that I have been an avid reader.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ZiggyZ California, United States 05-19-13
    ZiggyZ California, United States 05-19-13 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating story; distracting narration"

    A highly gripping story; challenging with the multiple narrators and time jumps; ghastly narration from several of the readers who apparently tried to imitate a Korean trying to speak English and failing miserably (as did the readers!). Fortunately the readers of the two main characters, Pak Jun Do and Interrogator Number Six, were OK. I have no clue how accurate the descriptions of life in DPRK were. How does someone write accurately about what he has not really experienced? (Have the North Koreans put a price on his head yet?!?) I could not put it down even though the narration was often driving me crazy.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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