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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

Critic Reviews

  • 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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Overall
  • Performance
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  • Mark
  • La Veta, CO, United States
  • 06-27-14

Stunning and contradictory

No need at this point to discuss the plot. An alien culture yet universal human appeal. Compelling plot yet frequent revulsion and disgust. Outstanding narration too. May not be everyone's cup of tea, but a worthy prize winner for a simultaneous punch to the brain and heart.

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  • Timothy
  • College Station, TX, United States
  • 05-14-14

Couldn't follow the story, or finish it.

Everyone's heaping praise on this book, and it got a Pulitzer I think, so I picked it up, hoping for a great story.

For one thing, it was often hard for me to understand the narrator.

Another problem is that the narrative seems to jump around without enough cues to let me know what's happening. I had a very difficult time following it.

It may be a cultural disconnect on my part, but I just had the hardest time understanding what people were doing, and why they were acting the way they were. Many times things that were happening just didn't seem to make any sense to me.

I stopped listening about 3/4 or maybe 4/5 in. Just couldn't stay interested.

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Stunning

If you could sum up The Orphan Master's Son in three words, what would they be?

An intricate novel of "the most democratic nation on Earth-North Korea." The author weaves a tale of conflict, lies, deception and human nature. Well worth the read.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Pak was portrayed as having so many facets and experiences.

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

The narrators bring depth to the characters.

Who was the most memorable character of The Orphan Master's Son and why?

Commander Ga was the most memorable because of his cruelty.

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Very good book

What made the experience of listening to The Orphan Master's Son the most enjoyable?

The story, the view into North Korea

Any additional comments?

The performance, the story, and the details of life in North Korea were all great.

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  • Performance
  • Story

WOW!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I have already recommended to friends.

What did you like best about this story?

I could not anticipate any of this. The story captivated me! I replayed portions of this book just to be able to wrap my mind around the circumstances described in the story. Loved the entire story.

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

Not sure, the story was very interesting but I did not read it.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Yes. Many moments in this book were quite moving. An entire nation held captive. Uncertainty of situation, status and even family loyalty.

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  • Angela
  • Nashville, TN
  • 03-06-14

Not an easy read but worth it.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This tells a gruesome tale of a life most of us cannot imagine... but it is told with such style and even moment of humor.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Orphan Master's Son?

There is a visit to Texas by the Koreans that is priceless...

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

The dialogue by someone very comfortable with Korean makes so much of it easier to understand and visualize.

Any additional comments?

A difficult start with the grim details but a beautifully woven tale of perseverance and determination.

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  • Scott
  • Scarborough, ON, Canada
  • 03-05-14

A Masterpiece that defies genres

Any additional comments?

This is a monumental work of contemporary historical fiction. It works as a character study, spy thriller, and expose of the world's most reclusive country. I found the details of North Korean life - the privations, the omnipresent "Big Brotherish" intrusions by the state into every facet of life, and the duplicitous goings on of the power brokers and their minions to be utterly fascinating. The author's brief interview at the end sheds a lot of welcome light on how he managed to paint such a credible portrait of the North Korean state. I also have to give him credit for the audacity to put Kim Jong Il front and center as one of the main characters. In some ways, this book reminded me of the Arkady Renko novels of Martin Cruz Smith and will appeal to those who like their fiction set in lands both mysterious and unfathomable. The superb narration adds rather than detracts from the story which is unusual for this genre IMO. This book is not to be missed!

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Strongly convincing performance, but confusing

Would you listen to The Orphan Master's Son again? Why?

I would not listen to this book again, because the characters' names were too confusing in listening format. It would have been less problematic visually, I think.

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

The most interesting part of this book was the verisimilitude to current affairs. The horrific storyline was more than credible, knowing what we hear in the news about North Korea at present.

Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

The performer was masterful at creating the cadence and enunciation of Korean speech, and equally adept at both female and male voices.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The story was SO painful, I had a hard time actually finishing this book.

Any additional comments?

Brilliant reading!

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Different Perspective on Reality

My reading buddy recommended this--no my usual type of book. I found it fascinatingly warped in the sense that reality is not reality. It is what the environment dictates and accepts. Very well written and read. It made me do some research on N. Korea. I would recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Sue
  • Williamsburg, VA, United States
  • 02-03-14

Awesome book!

The narration, hands down, is outstanding. It adds so much to the book.

As much as others have reviewed this book as being about the horrors of North Korea, to me, at its core is a love story. The interregator's love for his parents...and a man's love for "his" wife and children... And the lengths they will go to for that love. What would you do in a land of no hope and oppression for the ones you love?

This is one of the few books that I have listened to that I would enjoy listening to again to enjoy all of the literary nuances one more time.