Customer Reviews for

The Orphan Master's Son

Average Rating 4
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

26 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

An eye-opening story that will keep you captivated.

When I started reading this book, I wondered if it was science fiction, where I was taken to this "Big Brother" planet where a society totally lives in fear under the rule of a madman. It has hard to digest that this was an actual place on earth at this time and age. It...
When I started reading this book, I wondered if it was science fiction, where I was taken to this "Big Brother" planet where a society totally lives in fear under the rule of a madman. It has hard to digest that this was an actual place on earth at this time and age. It is about life in North Korea and a character named Pak Jun Do.

We begin by meeting Pak Jun Do at an orphanage that his father works at. Being an orphan is considered being one of the lowliest persons alive. Although Pak Jun Do's father works there, everyone he meets thinks he is an orphan and immediately forms their opinion about him.

We follow Jun Do through his unbelieveable and haunting life where he seems to be the puppet of those above him. He is forced to become a kidnapper, an intelligence officer that lives on a fishing boat, a prisoner, and eventually tortured. Throughout this, he has one thing to cling to, his love for the national actress, Sun Moon. We do not know his original name, but then he becomes Jun Do in the orphanage and then becomes others as the book progresses. In a society where you can "replace" a husband, or a wife, etc., and accept that as reality, Jun Do becomes who he needs to be when he needs to be.

I am so fortunate to have received an advanced copy of this book. I do not think it is a book I would have picked up on my own to read. Once I started reading, I was hooked. The author weaves Jun Do's different lives in and out of one another, and jumps from the present to the past and back again. It was confusing in the beginning, but once I figured out what was going on, it made the journey more interesting.

It really opened my eyes to the injustices that are occuring in North Korea and makes me thankful that I live in America. I would encourage others to read this book so they, too, can learn about life in North Korea

posted by code7r on January 20, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

Adventurous and ambitious. The title is misleading. Jun Do (Joh

Adventurous and ambitious.

The title is misleading. Jun Do (John Doe) lives in an orphanage in Chongjin, North Korea. He is introduced to us as the Orphan Master’s son, so in theory, he is not an orphan and constantly reminds the reader of this. However, he is tr...
Adventurous and ambitious.

The title is misleading. Jun Do (John Doe) lives in an orphanage in Chongjin, North Korea. He is introduced to us as the Orphan Master’s son, so in theory, he is not an orphan and constantly reminds the reader of this. However, he is treated like an orphan and given a name from a list of martyrs so you have to assume that he is, in fact, an orphan.

When the orphanage begins to lose its battle to famine, Jun Do is enlisted into the army. There, he performs missions in tunnels operating under zero-light conditions. The fact that he spends so much time in the dark is not a coincidence. This is North Korea after all. Anyway, after this adventure he gets a job translating radio transmissions, ends up in Texas, makes friends with a senator’s wife… kidnaps people and let’s not forget when he switches identity with Commander Ga, a national hero.

This was a bizarre read. Bizarre, but utterly fascinating. I liked Jun Do. I think that is why I decided to stay with him, no matter what he was doing, or what was going on around him. I knew I liked him when he kidnapped people and somehow, I still felt sympathy for him. Is he taken advantage of? Is that why I felt sorry for him? No. I never once felt that he was ever taken advantage of, but he moves with the times. He continues to move forward no matter what is thrown at him and although he cannot be considered a hero, I did find his resiliency to be admirable.

Although there isn’t too much said about Kim Jong il, he is present throughout the novel. The translated radio broadcasts, which in reality function as a form of brain washing and a way to spread propaganda, are peppered throughout. I was constantly reminded of who was in charge and it gave a very 1984-esque tone to the novel. This, I very much enjoyed.

What I enjoyed less, was the meandering nature of the story itself. Jun Do was here, there…heck he was everywhere. There are girls on boats, there’s fishing… there are famous singers and girls getting sent to Pyongyang, ultimately, to be prostitutes. There’s even a famous actress whose shine is just beginning to wear off (think Sunset Boulevard). This was the perfect example of too much.

Even though there was a lot going on, I zipped through this book, only to sit and wonder what the heck I’d say about it. It was surreal and sometimes reminded me of Haruki Murakami’s writing, but the payoff wasn’t as good and it took me weeks to sort through my feelings. I do like a book that forces me to think, but I’m not sure the author’s goal was to completely put a halt to my everyday life. THAT is how much I thought about this book.

Now here you are, wondering if you should read it. If you are the type of reader who likes to work through a book and not have things handed to you on a silver platter, then you might enjoy this book. If you like adventure, then there is plenty of that to be found within its pages. And I have to say, I did enjoy Jun Do’s character although I never did figure him out. The book itself was a fast read and quite different from anything I’ve read before. That’s saying something, right?

posted by TiBookChatter on April 20, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Riveting and devastating.

    This is one heck of a read. I found myself thinking "if this is even 1/10th true, what a horrific place North Korea is". It was very hard to read, but at the same time, irresistable. When I couldn't bear to read another page, I'd put it down, then realize I wanted to find out what happened to each character. Hard to follow all the character voices, but hang in there. It's LONG but worth it in the end.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2013

    Great book- timeline a little confusing

    When I finished reading this book, I did some research on N Korea. I had no idea that there was so much fact in this work of fiction. The story was riveting.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Very Intense Reading

    The book is beautifully crafted with details that only someone who knows his material could write. Johnson's portrayal of characters caught up in a repressive society is sharp and memorable. Be prepared, however, to read this book in small increments. I usually read a book over the course of a few days, but the plot of "The Orphan Master's Son" was more intense than I could handle in one sitting. I read a few pages at a time, then set the book aside for several days. All in all, this is an excellent book, albeit not an easy one to read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2012

    This book is hard to put down. It is unbelievable that an entir

    This book is hard to put down. It is unbelievable that an entire population is held hostage and so horribly abused as North Koreans are. The North Korean people are deprived of their basic human rights, they can't chose their mates, people suddenly disappear and unknown persons are moved into a missing persons life and expected to behave as though they've been there all along. The cruelty, the thinking process of the regime, the bogus descriptions of the world around them defies description. The author has opened a world to us that we free people can't begin to imagine.
    My only complaint is that whoever wrote the book into Nook format was horrible at grammer and some pages were missing.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2012

    good read about mysterious world

    Compelling tale and fascinating look inside the world's most closed society. Really enjoyed it. Amazing view of how a totalitarian regime controls all information to maintain its grip on power. Ideal for book clubs.

    With all the flashbacks and propaganda segments, it's a bit choppy and confusing at times. But you can soon figure out what's going on.

    Definitely needs the hand of a good copy editor to clean up the awkward phrasing and word use.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    Great read!

    Only half way through, but enjoying it very much. So well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

    Odd but worth it.

    Really brings you into this weird country!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2012

    You will want to find out more information about this oppressive country

    I discovered the book on a website”17 must read books of Spring 2012”.I hadn’t given much thought to N. Korea but felt it would be an informative book and help understand some of the news stories about this country and Kim Jong Il . The story is a fantasy or something like you would expect the villens in a Batman Movie would be involved in : sub-terrain prisons, chained prison inmates, electric torture machines, to impossible to be real. Disappointing to start but as you get into the book you get caught up with the fantasy and need to know how it ends. After reading about the authors credentials and research at the end of the book, it makes you wonder is their truth to this fantasy? The book left me with the desire to find out more about this oppressive country, and I am trying to find other historical fiction (I like my history coated with Mylanta so it goes down easier) that might be closer to reality or support the impressions left after reading this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2012

    Recommended for serious readers

    Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son is a well researched and insightful look inside North Korea. The American ideal of individuality and freedom is turned on its ear in North Korea where the state dictates and controls the lives of all citizens. Loudspeakers daily dictate the "Dear Leader's" thoughts and propaganda. This would seem to be as grim a tale as Chaim Potok's I am the Clay but Johnson fashions a human love story amidst this regimented life. A finely nuanced story in which the inevitable outcome is known he builds up the layers of the story until the reader can be satisfied that they know and understand much more about the nature and reality of North Korea. He makes it exciting and suspenseful amidst the harshness and dehumanization from which the people have no escape. Adam Johnson achieves stature with this novel akin to David Wroblewski of Edgar Sawtelle fame. This book offers plenty of discussion material for book clubs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2014

    Very disturbing.

    I read this book with my book club. There are threads of narrative that were interesting and absorbing, but on the whole it was so violent and disturbing that I had trouble finishing it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    I feel sorry for those that could not understand the book or fol

    I feel sorry for those that could not understand the book or follow the story. I found it very understandable and I never had to guess who was narrating or when. It was fabulous and very worthy of the acclaim it has received.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2013

    Riveting and suspenseful, the Orphan Master¿s Son kept me readin

    Riveting and suspenseful, the Orphan Master’s Son kept me reading this book through the night. Once, I read half of the book in one sitting because I was so interested in this book. It is really worth the buy if anyone is on the fence about it.
    This book is about the life of Jun Do in his home country, North Korea. It shows in vast contrast how different his life is from yours and mine. Jun Do is the son or the Orphan Master, but he is treated like an orphan, the lowest “class” in North Korea.
    The book shows a different point of view from my own and is like a completely different world. This is a world where the people of North Korea can be thrown in a prison camp for almost anything if the government dislikes them.  The entire population is completely brainwashed to believe everything the government tells them. This is a world where a mother does not even really know her own child. It shows a completely different world from the one we live in.
    As good as the book is however, it does have some boring and confusing parts as well. Especially in part two, I got a bit bored with the plotline and was tempted to put it down. But, it revamped its self towards the end, getting more interesting with plot twists, etc. 
    Over all, I would recommend this book to people who wish to see another point of view, because this book does an amazing job of doing so. This is not a book for younger people; the touches on some dark topics. So, people ages 20+ would probably enjoy the book the most. This book opens up a pathway to a different world, showing you a different society from ours, and opening our eyes to a completely different “normal”.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2013

    Incredible storytelling!

    I picked up this book on a whim. I had forgotten my NOOK at home and so I stopped by a tiny bookstore that had maybe 50 fiction books to choose from. This book caught my eye and I am so glad that I picked it up. The skilled storytelling is absolutely unique and fantastic. I simply loved reading this book and it is definitely one of the best, if not the best, work of fiction that I have read in recent memory.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013

    A look into another world...

    A compelling novel about a land we know too little about. Be prepared for some loss of sleep while reading this. It stays with you.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2012

    Magical realism in a very dark place.

    Great book! Couldn't put it down

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    Posted February 16, 2012

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    Posted February 5, 2012

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    Posted July 28, 2014

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    Posted November 27, 2013

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    Posted May 6, 2013

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