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)
"Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love ..." was the description of the book. And it is absolutely correct - a schizophrenic collection of tales trying very hard to come together to form a story. The premise was interesting enough. Some of the characters are actually rather interesting. And some of the insights into North Korean life was revealing.
The overall story just does not come together in a cohesive manner. There were gaps in the story where the state didn't know certain facts at one point and then know the details in other points. And not to mention, part way through the story, the author decided to start shifting perspectives between the characters. It may work in the author's mind... but I just found it to be scattered brained and confusing.
So in the end, what was an interesting premise got messed up by lousy story structure, sloppiness in story cohesion. And not to mention a performance that left a lot to be desired.
Overall 2 stars for the story that I need to struggle to finish.
I loved this book!! My 20 yo son and I listened to it on a camping trip, and he loved it as well. What an amazing and frightening look at a totally disfunctional society. The only downside is that two of the narrators were poor. One, who was doing the chapters involving the North Korean news announcements, sounded like a person with a Brooklyn accent trying to do a Korean accent and doing a poor job. The other doing the interrogator character sounded like a female, but the character was male. Regardless, this was only distracting to a minor degree. I wish they had simply had the main narrator do the entire book. In any event, aside from that, I highly recommend it and so does my son!!!
Fascinating story, brilliantly written with wonderful narration. One of the best books I have listened to or read. No wonder it won a Pulitzer.
Throughout the book Johnson captures the power of propaganda and its complete enslavement of people - whether it be used by governments, institutions, corporations or religions.
I was very quickly drawn into this compelling story about life in North Korea. You may think it reads like science fiction but, unfortunately, life in North Korea is about as frightening as the world can be. This book is not a beach read at all. As we follow the main character through his life of trials and tribulations, we experience his evolution as a man and his awakening to understanding this country. This fictional account is loaded with very factual information about North Korea. The balance of fact and fiction allows the reader to feel more acutely and experience the insight of characters/people as they try to make sense of life in a country of insanity.Thoughts of this story will linger and haunt you long after the last word.
Immigration lawyer in Kansas City. I like Character driven dramas, fantasy (monsters, magic and witches oh my!) and coming of age stories. Favs include: The Book Thief, The Game of Throne series, Harry Potter Series, Dresden Files, Nightside series, anything by Neil Gaimen, 100 Years of Solitude.
This story was really engaging and a bit frightening if this is really how life is in North Korea. The paranoia, the games, the "rehabilitation camps" the propaganda is so cold war it is hard to believe that this still exists. I immediately cared about the characters and couldn't wait to continue the story each time I had to stop the book.
The narrators were really excellent as well. The added alot to the story and really added life to the story. I am interested to read more from this author and this story made me want to learn more about this mysterious and dangerous place called North Korea.
One of the top audiobooks I have heard.
I liked how the stories wove together and built in intensity as they intersected.
Captivating, original, fascinating
Utterly fantastic book. Narration is top-notch as well. I picked it up because the North Korea "angle" seemed intriguing. The book sure delivers in that respect. And although North Korea itself is the utter center of this book, the characters and their stories are absolute gems. I am so glad I took a chance on this book.
I didn't know what I was in for with this story and was mesmerized by the insight into North Korea..stayed with me for weeks after I finished. Great story. So glad it won the Pulitzer.
This book is impossible to describe well. Parts are very dark, but the story is compelling. The multiple readers are excellent. While I didn't always like the story line, I found I could not stop listening! Well derserving of the Pulitzer!
A fascinating look at the workings of North Korea especially at this tense time in diplomatic relations with the North. No wonder westerners have trouble conceiving of the way North Koreans think - the inner workings of this book match with the descriptions of prison life in the North conveyed by a recent life-long prison dweller. Hard to imagine how this culture damages the psyches of its citizens.
The plot was different than anything I'd ever read before.
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