The Orphan Master's Son

A Novel

Johnson, Adam

Book - 2012
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The Orphan Master's Son
This novel 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. The son of an influential father who runs an orphan work camp, Pak Jun Do rises to prominence using instinctive talents and eventually becomes a professional kidnapper and romantic rival to Kim Jong Il. Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother, a singer "stolen" to Pyongyang, and a 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.'

Publisher: New York : Random House, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780812992793
Characteristics: 443 p. ; 25 cm


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Nov 24, 2014
  • kylabot rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Very graphic novel and while I'm sure not accurate of life in North Korea - it was a very engaging adventure story of the rise and fall of a (maybe) orphan within a repressive government. As long as you read it as fiction - not an ethnography of N Korea - I give 5 stars. I haven't read a book this quick in years!

Aug 27, 2014
  • lorraine_on_rodney rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

a weirdly compelling read - although stomach churning at times. I felt the whole book was ultimately ruined by its jingoistic US portrayal.

I think the author intended this to be satire, but it reads like non-fiction and likely represents some aspects of the real N. Korea, but too self-serving to the US to be taken as anything but propaganda.

Can't believe the Pulitzer Committee fell for it.

Jul 21, 2014
  • suzetteb rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

I found this story way too unbelievable and almost sadistic. I had to make myself finish it and it didn't get any better.

Jul 15, 2014
  • I_sing_the_Body_Electric rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Its an intriguing and very tragic novel. This story interested me mainly because of its setting: North Korea. Its really captivating when you read this novel in Jun Do's (main character) perspective and all the tragic events that happens in his life. It can be a little slow and slightly confusing but the character development of Jun Do makes up for it. Check it out!

Jun 24, 2014
  • JCLEmilyW rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Heartbreaking and funny, violent and beautiful--this book pulls no punches. I was gripped by this imagining of life under the oppression of the North Korean regime. Adam Johnson creates a palpable atmosphere of fear and distrust, in a land where any misstep leads straight to the prison camps or mines. In spite of the difficult subject matter, the compelling story of Jhun Do pulled me through all the way to the end.

Apr 03, 2014
  • stoker rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

For a true story of N Korea, read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. I found the Orphan Master's Son too satirical, too silly and unbelievable, too far-fetched. I don't need satire to bring out the horror of the N Korean regime. It is very clear in a truthful way in Demick's book.

Apr 02, 2014
  • becker rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

Oh my goodness, did I ever struggle with this book. It fluctuated between engaging and tedious. At several points I almost gave up on it and at other times I couldn't put it down. It was so saturated in satire that it became riduculous in places. The American authorship of this book was so evident that it was distracting. I'm not even sure what my final opinion of the book is but I certainly won't forget it. It was an experience.

Mar 06, 2014

A very interesting read. The author even in fiction, get facts right about the oppressive regime in North Korea. Sometimes very difficult but keeps the interest to finish the book

Feb 20, 2014
  • johnharper_01 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Agreat story. A real eye opening look into North Korea as well.

Jan 01, 2014
  • brianreynolds rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son is on the local book club list, and that was, I'm reluctant to admit, the most sensible, perhaps my only reason for finishing it. In spite of the fact it follows a cleverly clear and compelling storyline with prose that is both interesting and highly descriptive of a strange and mysterious land, the book is painful to read. Seriously painful.

Three short reasons. First of all, it is graphic in the extreme in describing a fictional (the author is quite explicit that it is fiction lest we not understand that there is a truth in fiction) society in which human beings are not only tortured routinely and brutally, ruled by constant fear, and deprived of the comforts and necessities of life as well as the right to think or even hope. The author names this fictional dystopia, North Korea. He does describe a fictional island of tranquillity and peace and honour and truth that he calls both Texas and United States of America, but the description is brief and the hapless Koreans have almost no hope of ever even learning about the nature of its pastoral beauty. Second, Johnson takes a story that could not be anything but an irony, a story of hopelessness and failure and misery, and (it would be unkind to suggest he might be pandering to a North American expectation of romance) he attempts to turn it into its opposite: a story where a hero (John Doe? Jun Do) solves a problem. In order to pull this off, the fair maiden that is saved might be the only person in the imaginary kingdom that doesn't need to be saved, and saving her results in the brutal deaths of many others. In a world where suicide is a victory over pain and killing your parents is the kindest gift you can give them, where faux-heroes are also kidnappers and torturers and killers themselves, where the line between truth and lie is only in the mind of the reader, really, there are no cowboys wearing the white hat. Third, I know too many people who read fiction to educate themselves about geography and history and science and everything else in the Dewey Decimal System. My stomach churns at how well this fits what they believe to be true about real places on the planet whether that is the case or not. Any one of those things might have prompted me to put it down and enjoy a nightmare-free sleep.

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