Rated of 5
Adam Johnson's book, "The Orphan Master's Son", tells a tale about the dismal condition of life in North Korea. His fiction is consistent with Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy" that is based on interviews of refugees from Kim Jong-Il's totalitarian regime; i.e. Johnson's fictional picture fits descriptions given in the North Korean' interviews.
Johnson tells a story of Pak Jun Do, his survival and advancement in Kim Jon-Il's "Alice in Wonderland" world where cards can be soldiers because the "Mad Hatter" (North Korea's Dear Leader) says it is so. Pak Jun Do's life begins in an orphanage; he becomes a kidnapper of Japanese citizens for the Dear Leader, and later assumes the identity of a general in the Korean army. Pak Jun Do's surrealistic adventure exposes bizarre methods of intimidation, torture, and propaganda that sustain North Korea's existence.
The pace of Johnson's narrative, the clever exposure of North Korea's propagandist methodology, and his references to reported real life incidents (like the kidnapping of Japanese citizens) keep one's interest long enough to complete the book. However, Johnson's story is disjointed with jarring segues in the history of its hero. Johnson packs many bizarre incidents in his story but character development is weak. The love of Pak Jun Do for North Korea's most famous actress and how that love develops is too contrived and unbelievable.
Johnson's book reads like a comic book episode of Captain America or, more aptly, Captain Korea. The hero's tortuous flight to freedom is unconvincing.
North Korea is a dark totalitarian country that needs real heroes. Adam Johnson appears to have enough understanding of the country to create a more believable North Korean character than Pak Jun Do.