The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son

by Adam Johnson
4.0 192


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The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 192 reviews.
code7r More than 1 year ago
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
JoeJohnIII More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
jdleighton More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just Stunning! An absolute must read that will tear your heart out and make you greatful for what you have.
Jeeeez More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Tiger_Girl More than 1 year ago
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.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Lyn13 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
shelley1AL More than 1 year ago
I am forcing myself to finish this book. It is compelling in that I'm learning all I ever want to know about North Korea. It's very disturbing in that regard. But the story itself is hard to follow, a lot of it is like someone describing their dream in that it doesn't make a lot of sense. But I will finish this book. And I won't recommend it to anybody. It's pretty awful. How people can live under these conditions is a mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Brittwrit More than 1 year ago
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.
MacMaiden More than 1 year ago
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.
KY_reader More than 1 year ago
This book stayed with me long after I was finished. It's on my personal top 25 list!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read it in the summer, but it's not a light, summer read.
BeckyNC More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully captivating!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not believe people could live and be treated this way. If it is even 10% accurate about conditions in N Korea, thats awful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only half way through, but enjoying it very much. So well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really brings you into this weird country!
franni62 More than 1 year ago
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.