The Orphan Master's Son
This book leaves me with conflicted feelings about reviewing it. I was glad to finish, but sorry it was over. Part One was fascinating and a fast read. To finish Part Two was more difficult, but absorbing. I continued to reread passages so I could understand the time frame. The daily loudspeaker announcements in every home emphasized one of the brainwashing mechanisms of a despotic government. It is interesting to realize how people accept the "truth" of the media. The way a Korean "John Doe" managed to maintain his identity was truly spellbinding. I always realized the inference of corruption and cruelty in North Korea, but never knew the truth of the matter. This book depicts the possibility of that truth.
Rated of 5
by Darlene C. (Woodstock, il)
A Tale of Souls
An amazing novel. The tone of this book mirrors the society it describes. I found it difficult to read except in short doses because it reflects the oppressiveness of North Korea so accurately. It is a dark story of hopelessness and survival - not one to read if you are looking for a happy ending. However, it is well worth reading. The writing is brilliant; the characters are fully developed. The author's ability to mirror North Korean society through his choice of language is amazing. This book would provoke interesting discussions in book clubs. I can't say I enjoyed this book as it is so depressing; however, it is an excellent book that is extremely well written.
Rated of 5
by John W. (Clayton, Missouri)
Vivid view into life in North Korea
"The Orphan Master's Son" is an impressive novel about a man called Pak Jun Do's journey from childhood to manhood in a country, North Korea, where little is known about daily life. The story follows Pak Jun Do departure from the orphanage to life as a tunnel soldier, a professional kidnapper, language student, radio operator on a fishing vessel, a hero who visits Texas on a government mission, and then a prisoner. The writer describes in detail how the totalitarian regime operates enabling the reader to understand how people submit to its relentless propaganda and repression. Several times in the book the North Koreans express concern and horror that people in the U.S. must pay for everything. Rather than view freedom of a positive it’s viewed as a negative that people don’t have the protection and safety that comes from a government that dictates every aspect of their lives. Jun Do says he doesn't think he could ever feel free in the US; that everything in North Korea makes clear sense and it's the most straightforward place on earth.
I highly recommend this book to readers that like reading about life in other cultures. It is a wide ride of emotions with periods of very disturbing descriptions of the cruelty, courage and love. Prepare yourself for a slow read - it contains very detailed description of events and the book can be confusing at time as narrator changes and it jumps from one time period to another.
Rated of 5
by Shirley D. (Amherst, MA)
I didn’t know much about North Korea and I’m not sure I want to know any more. The Orphan Master’s Son is so brilliantly written, I found myself immediately involved in the lives of the of the characters. I’m glad I read it but wish I hadn’t felt so personally involved – no objectivity here. The writing captured me completely and I could read just so much at a time. I am conflicted. I have to say it is a wonderful/awful book and I’ll never in the future hear the words “North Korea” without a personal connection..
Rated of 5
by Betsey V. (Austin, TX)
A minefield of a fable, myth and realism combined
Adam Johnson writes with authority about the essentially unknown North Korean culture and civilization. Kim Jong Il's force-fed propaganda controls the people so consummately that their identities are squeezed from their minds and replaced with a state-sponsored life and perspective. The life of a North Korean is not the pursuit of happiness or self-actualization. It is solely to survive, like an insect or a rodent. To live, you must become a shell, an unquestionably loyal nationalist.
What Johnson realizes so well in his debut novel are the conflicts, confrontations, and abysses between the self that has been annihilated and the social structure that replaces the self. Every word you utter is weighed, and could be twisted as subversive. You are subjected to daily propaganda reports through loudspeakers connected to your house. People are traumatized from the cradle to the grave, and your individual thoughts are a threat to your security and safety. You are raised to be a complete subject of the state, and to wear the skin of trauma that is inflicted daily.
Jun Do is a survivor of famine and abandonment. His father ran an orphanage, and Jun Do was expected to impersonate an orphan from an early age. His strength, talents, and stamina lead him along an epic path. From his high seas and espionage adventures on a fishing vessel, where he develops his first chosen father-son emotional relationship, to the deprivations and torture of the prison mines, to the corrupt corridors of power, where his skill of impersonation becomes his sword and precarious shield, Jun Do's life literally morphs into a fabled one. He learns to act alone, and yet to connect with the hearts of others.
"Today, tomorrow...A day is nothing. A day is just a match you strike after the ten thousand matches before it have gone out," says the tragic, beautifully wounded actress, Sun Moon, who has made persona an art, and who once captured the hearts of all the citizens, including her husband, Commander Ga. Jun Do's transformations, internal and external, bring him squarely into the receptacles of Commander Ga, Sun Moon, and the "Dear Leader" himself.
This postmodern novel is told via stunning juxtapositions, between the controllers and subjects of a treacherous society and the inner will of the individual. The historical context is authentic, complex, layered, and detailed. Chapters alternate between Jun Do and a nameless interrogator, which progress to an operatic denouement. This isn't the kind of novel that grabs you immediately; there are many ambiguities and inchoate events that build gradually, stone by stone, erecting an explosive story that tunnels through the doom of a raw reality, to a bloodletting myth, and into the chambers of a sequestered heart.
Rated of 5
by Deborah M. (Chambersburg, PA)
Takes Readers to a Place They've Never Been
Johnson takes us inside a country that most of us know little about: contemporary North Korea. We're all familiar with the soundbites from the news that describe a monomaniacal dictator who places personal power above the welfare of his people. But Johnson shows what it must be like to live--no, SURVIVE--within the justified paranoia engendered in such a place. The sweeping plot follows the titular protagonist, Jun Do, through his rise in the ranks by both dedication and devious means. It's a thriller, a mystery, a love story; there's something here for everyone. What will stay with me most after reading this novel is the sense of what it must be like to live with gut-wrenching fear on a day-to-day basis. To feel that no one can be trusted; to feel that you're constantly under scrutiny; to feel afraid to love, to hope, to dream--all of the things that make us human. This is a complex book, but one definitely worth the effort.
Rated of 5
by Maggie P. (Mount Airy, MD)
A Different World
The Orphan Master's Son grabs you from the start. Transported to the world of North Korea, the reader is intrigued to see what Pak Jun Do encounters next. Both a love story and a thriller, this book keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.
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