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)
As I am quite new to Audible, I picked this book inspired by reading about North Korea in the news. I did not have very high expectations and figured this might be a very long winded story about captivity and hunger.
But what a nice surprise. This is in my opinion a masterpiece that kept me spell bounded for hours and while I was still listening, I was actually looking forward to my next flight where I would have a chance to continue the story.
Gruesome, dark and depressing. That must be what is required for a Pulitzer. It's not a light read! I had to slug through it.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” (George R. R. Martin)
It’s easy to understand how "The Orphan Master’s Son" won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a fascinating tale, basically an adventure, through a strange land that few people know much about – and it is never dull. Adam Johnson’s North Korea is a truly frightening, dystopian Sci-fi-like place. The three narrators (Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, and James Kyson Lee) each employ distinctive, nuanced performances to bring a dark but highly entertaining story to life – which is split up into three intertwining parts.
Impossible to follow aurally, especially if you listen off and on or as you fall asleep.
Haven't read the print version. But love the narration of this book. Uses different speakers or voices for different characters. Interesting aspect of a unknown and intriguing country. Love the parrallels between the good of the west and the thoughts of the East. thought provoking that there are aspects of our world, under the pretense of freedom that are not necessarily better. Sure living under fear and a world of propaganda is not preferred, but our world of greed, violence and uncertainty has its questions too.
Life on the boat. It provided another insight into a world where freedom is not a given.
Lead character, John Doe
I just had a hard time following the characters, situations and locations. If it were a text novel I probably would have loved it, but after an earnest effort I had to admit defeat.
No, I'd love to read more about NK.
I didn't get that far. I did not like the gruff narration of the boat captain, there needed to be some differentiation of inflection and delivery to suit the situation.
Didn't get far enough to evaluate.
I'm sure this is a great novel but it just didn't grab me in audible form.
Most good books have a few quotable lines that reach deep into your soul and connect with a life situation or tragedy or joy that you have felt attaching you to the truth. This book is a journey of truths. Each page an oyster bearing pearls from characters steeped in the fire of an unholy dictatorship.
Jun Do cracks open and delivers many of the oyster's pearls of wisdom as he faces a life dictated by the danger that comes from the great leader of North Korea and his forces. Travel writer Jamaica Kincaid wrote that writers often, "begin with a broken heart sometimes, a tender heart fractured, its sweet matter bejeweled with the sharp slivers of a special pain." If Adam Johnson did not have a broken heart when he began to write perhaps he tapped into the heart of every North Korean who suffers abuse and delivered to us a hero named Jun Do.
If you connected with Stieg Larsson's, Lisbeth Salander in his trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you are certainly ripe for the beauty that is Jun Do and his plight of a tragic yet victorious life.
The narration. All 3 of them got the accents down pat.
Ju Do's almost killing his translator for wanting to defect.
All of them, but Ju n do in particular.
Jun Do's sacrifice.
Because the writing and story is so strong, it's clear this book would be extraordinary in either print or audio editions. Having said that, I'm glad I chose the audio version. The narraters are wonderful actors and since they're Korean (I presume) they pronounce the language correctly. If I were to have read the Korean words I would have no idea how to pronounce them. I strongly recommend this audio book.
"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.
"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!
"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.
"5 stars is not enough"
what a fabulous tale! i couldnt stop listening and have stayed up all night over several nights. I'm now exhausted but it was so worth it.
"complex multilayered superbly written & well told"
riveting horrific tender. makes you thank god you're lucky to be born where you were. highly disturbing. beyond belief.
"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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