Customer Reviews for

The Orphan Master's Son

Average Rating 4
( 197 )
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

25 out of 27 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

4 out of 5 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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  • Posted January 20, 2012

    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 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

    25 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    In The Orphan Master’s Son Adam Johnson brings to life the concept and reality of North Korea as only a master could. He knits together reality with one of the great fictions of movie history (Casablanca) but transcends even Rick’s character with that of Jun Do, the orphan master’s son. Jun Do’s character starts at the lowest rung in North Korea, an orphan, at least an orphan due to the denial by the orphan master to even acknowledge him as his son. Jun Do’s launch outside the orphanage starts with carrying out clandestine missions for the State (as directed by the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il) where he shows promise in learning foreign languages, then moves to high adventure at sea where he rises to hero status only to fall from grace. His subsequent incarceration exposes him to a camp where exhausted workers suffer their grisly terminal exploitation as unwilling blood and organ donors. Then almost by accident he manages to transform himself to a new identity as the second most powerful person in North Korea, one regarded with paranoiac fear even by Kim Jong Il. It is the last transition that allows Jun Do the pleasure of finding his Ilsa, the most beloved actress in all of North Korea for whom Kim Jong Il personally writes scripts and secretly loves. Along Jun Do’s winding trail, Johnson introduces a myriad of heterogeneous characters extending from two American women rowing around the world to North Korean fishermen pressed into service to sponsor spies and carry out absurd personal missions for the Dear Leader’s whims. Jun Do and his fellow cast members reveal a state that most of us can only imagine—one devoted entirely to Kim Jong Il and his obsessions, his world view, his total control of information, his complete disregard for common morality. Fear permeates and dominates every person’s single day, their every action, their every “private” conversation. Johnson’s lively writing uses diverse strokes to paint this wide ranging action to evoke both acceptance and rejection by his characters’ anima. Using fascinating style and imagination, he weaves together so many emotions and conditions from despair to cautious hope to probe a culture with which few of us are at all familiar that his book deserves a read, maybe two to savor it fully.

    17 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 10, 2012

    I was thinking about it, and this is the best novel I have ever

    I was thinking about it, and this is the best novel I have ever read in my life, and I say that carefully after thinking it over. With all the novels being published these days, there are not a lot of magisterial ones with a short plot summary that makes you want to immediately read them. But this, a novel about North Koreans, set in North Korea, is. A big-hearted meditation on freedom, love, and goodness. It's also a book with many,many beautiful passages and great inner tension that makes it very gripping.

    I heard Mr. Johnson speak in New York; he was describing the research he did and mentioned the defected sushi chef (not a spoiler, a real life occurrence). "I'm rambling, to bring up [the chef]," he said, folding his hands and looking off over our heads into the distance. I almost yelled out, "No you're not! I'm hanging on every word!"

    This novel has beauty of language, penetrating psychological insight (truly rare), and a good plot and action. It is wholly perfect!

    Definitely buy this book.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2013

    M

    Just Stunning! An absolute must read that will tear your heart out and make you greatful for what you have.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    BEST BOOK I'VE READ IN AGES!!! Honestly, couldn't stop until I f

    BEST BOOK I'VE READ IN AGES!!! Honestly, couldn't stop until I finished it because I had to find out where it was going. North Korea is the mystery nation, and this book puts you in the mind of the common man. Not a pretty place, but twisted and at times comical. Propaganda is the name of the game. Read it, you won't be sorry.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    This book was an absolute surprise. I had read the usual comments on what the book was about, but expected quite a different ending. Very entertaining and you cannot put it down. Excellent read.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    Best book of 2012

    Just finished and I have to say this was the best book I read in 2012. It's been a very long time since a book has held my attention from start to finish. I have never read a book about North Korea before and I found this story to be unbelievably heartbreaking and eye-opening regarding this suppressed society.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    I could not put this book down. It is hard to believe that there

    I could not put this book down. It is hard to believe that there is a place on earth that is really like this, and this books gives us a little peek inside.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    Hard to put down

    This novel will remind me always of how fortunate I am to live in this country. A compelling read with a triumph of spirit and determination.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2012

    I could not stop reading The Orphan Master's Son! This was proba

    I could not stop reading The Orphan Master's Son! This was probably the most riveting book I've picked up in a long time.

    Johnson paints a vivid picture of the repressed nation of North Korea. The novel jumps around a bit, but I didn't find this confusing. Instead, the disjointed style of the narrative reflects the nature of the plot. Jun Do's identity becomes intertwined with Commander Ga's, and the story he tells to an unnamed interrogator in Division 42 leaves the interrogator confused, disbelieving and disillusioned by the system governing him and his fellow citizens.

    This a beautiful, albeit dark, tale that I cannot recommend enough.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Beautiful, gripping and heartbreaking

    What are these reviewers who denounce the merit of this book reading? And how could anyone say they don't understand how the people of North Korea put up with the deplorable conditions? Uh, I guess they should just leave the place. Are readers that uninformef about the world we live in? And can people please please check the corect use of ITS/IT'S. It makes your review seem ...well...uneducated.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2013

    This book stayed with me long after I was finished. It's on my

    This book stayed with me long after I was finished. It's on my personal top 25 list!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2013

    Love it

    Thus book is a great read. It takes the reader into a strange world of propaganda and fear. The book is fiction, but grounded by the author's vast knowledge of North Korea. Of you want an easy feel good read this book is not for you. It is a web of story lines that will keep you guessing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2013

    Imaginative and important

    I read it in the summer, but it's not a light, summer read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2013

    Great read

    Mindbending

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    Wonderfully captivating!

    Wonderfully captivating!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2013

    BREATHTAKING!

    A brilliant book! Ingeniously crafted. Having been born in a communist country I could so relate. People have been treating each other with contempt, disregard and inhumanity for centuries and based on today's headlines there is no sign of it changing - this book demonstrates, at least one aspect, of how depraved humanity can be. Thankfully redemption can be found by those who seek it!
    The impressions of this book will stay with me for a long, long time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2013

    I finished this book over two weeks ago and I am still thinking

    I finished this book over two weeks ago and I am still thinking about it.  This is a difficult book to read because of the 
    graphic nature of the horrors Jon Do faces, yet I left this book with a great sense of hope.  I recommend this book to all of my reader friends. And I will read this author again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    really good book!

    I was surprised at how much this book grabbed my attention. It was a book like no other I had read before. I recommend it highly. You will be entralled as I was.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    This is the most interesting and best book I have read in a very long time. I do not normally choose books set in North Asia only because it is so unfamiliar to me. This was an exception. We read it as a book club choice. I will say some were disturbed by the inability to know what was true. Those that loved the book understood the damaging impacts of a country run by propaganda. "If the man and the story are not aligned, the story wins out. ". Think about that!
    If you like a bit of historical fiction, you will be intriqued by this book. Enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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