An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master's Son 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.
Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother - a singer "stolen" to Pyongyang - and an influential 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."
Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master's Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master's Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today's greatest writers.
Adam Johnson's somber yet highly praised novel, The Orphan Master's Son, has inspired enthusiastic responses from BookBrowse readers. 28 out of 32 reviewers rate it 4 or 5 stars. Here's what they have to say:
"Citizens, gather round your loudspeakers..." What a beginning to an absolutely fascinating story! Imagine having an announcement every morning, in your home, office... giving you the day's news, recipes, stories, and a constant barrage of propaganda that molds your thoughts until there is no individual, just a human extension of the government (Annie P). Part adventure thriller, part real-life dystopia documentary, part creative fiction, Adam Johnson searingly paints a portrait of a culture where the individual is erased and the collective is all that matters. Filled with twists and turns and exposure of the dark realities of life in North Korea (kidnapping of innocents, repression and propaganda), this is truly an imaginative feat (Jill S). (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Starred Review. Johnson juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope.
Starred Review. Readers who enjoy a fast-paced political thriller will welcome this wild ride through the amazingly conflicted world that exists within the heavily guarded confines of North Korea. Highly recommended.
Starred Review. The Orphan Master's Son is a triumph on every level.
Adam Johnson has pulled off literary alchemy, first by setting his novel in North Korea, a country that few of us can imagine, then by producing such compelling characters whose lives unfold at breakneck speed. I was engrossed right to the amazing conclusion. The result is pure gold, a terrific novel.
An addictive novel of daring ingenuity; a study of sacrifice and freedom in a citizen-eating dynasty; and a timely reminder that anonymous victims of oppression are also human beings who love. A brave and impressive book.
I've never read anything like it. This is truly an amazing reading experience, a tremendous accomplishment. I could spend days talking about how much I love this book. It sounds like overstatement, but no. The Orphan Master's Son is a masterpiece.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Sande O. (Rochester, NY) A Story of Obsession Adam Johnson's view of life in North Korea is not for the feint of heart. Though fictional, it has the eerie sound of ultimate truth. This is a society without love, without hope, without any human emotion. The "beloved" leader is the source of... Read More
Rated of 5
by Teresa R. (Fort Collins, CO) Harrowing, nightmarish, surreal Imagining the tale of an individual living under North Korea’s dehumanized and repressive regime was a heroic undertaking, and the author’s exhaustive background research for the book was masterly. But I had trouble throughout with the story’s... Read More
Rated of 5
by Betsy R. (Gig Harbor, WA) Worth reading This is not typically the type of book I would select; however, its unique setting, the original story line and the excellent writing made this a title that I am very glad I read. I would tell readers to be patient as they navigate through the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Elizabeth K., Amigos Library Services (Dallas, TX) Mysterious, compelling, frightening: North Korea What happens when a country attempts to eliminate the individual and remold him or her into a nameless, faceless, interchangeable part of a bigger whole? No matter how oppressed, the human heart still yearns for love, for freedom, for something... Read More
Rated of 5
by Viqui G. (State College, PA) The Orphan Master's Son I was totally engrossed with this powerful novel by Adam Johnson. The book weaves an intricate story that depict a North Korean world that is extremely foreign to us. It was initially difficult to understand the mentality of the people living in... Read More
Rated of 5
by Patricia K. (Oak Park, California) Orphan Master's Son I took my time with this book. Reading this book, I was exposed to a society I've never read about before, and became very curious about places and events. At times I stopped during the reading of the book to look up places and events such as... Read More
Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son introduces many readers to the complex history and multi-layered culture of North Korea. If you'd like to learn more about the political and social climate of this country, allow us to suggest the following books:
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick: Demick's nonfiction work offers a remarkable insider's view of North Korea, as seen through the eyes of six ordinary citizens over fifteen years - a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il Sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong Il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
When the wife of a North Korean diplomat in Pakistan dies under suspicious circumstances, O is told to investigate, with a curious proviso: Dont look too closely at the details, and stay away from the question of missiles. Soon, however, the Inspector discovers he is up to his ears in missiles - and somebody wants him dead.
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