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I am envious of Adam Johnson's great gift. He has managed to convey the "hell" of North Korea without rubbing your face in it. While the characters suffer immensely, they are not to be pitied. Their ability to accept their plight without losing hope is so inspirational. I can't imagine how the author managed such a complicated plot line and kept the readers hanging on at the same time.
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 all. There is nothing beyond what he allows and what comes over the loud speaker system: American invaders at the borders, retired Koreans luxuriating at state sponsored resorts. While prison camps and starvation abound. Against this background our anti-hero develops an obsession for a former movie actress and risks all for her. It gives his life meaning, but can it be love? I'm not convinced anyone is this society is capable of knowing what love is. Still it's a book worth reading.
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 fragmented chronology, and several key plot elements seemed implausible to me. For example, the narrative states that the protagonist Jun Do, an uneducated orphan, had only one year of English instruction (by an Angolan at that), but as part of a delegation to Texas really? he served as interpreter, demonstrating vast fluency in speaking to and understanding his American hosts. Perhaps it was the author’s ironic intent, but all the characters present in this brutally inhumane setting seemed flat and one-dimensional. I labored to get through this book and would not recommend it.
Betsy R. (Gig Harbor, WA)
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 characters and premise because it will be a book that you will love and remember.
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 better than what it has. Adam Johnson writes as if he has lived the life he describes in this impressive, exhaustively-researched novel. This dense book explores the life of one man from his unbelievably harsh childhood to an even more difficult adulthood, emphasizing not just the physical pain, but the emotional and psychological scars of living in North Korea. This is a stunning book that should become required reading in college literature courses and for any American interested in learning more about North Korea.
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 this isolated country, however the author did an outstanding job of guiding the reader through the North Korean psyche. Their way of life and their system of government is so alien from ours that it was almost like reading about a science fictionalized community.
Patricia K. (Oak Park, California)
Orphan Master's Son
Pak Jun Do is the main character that survives despite many obstacles. The mental and physical torture that he endures would have destroyed many individuals. The author depicts his wit, his intellect and his mental toughness with great clarity.
This book will appeal to readers interested in a well paced novel of some complexity. There are many graphic scenes, so I don't recommend it to young people. However, it would definitely would appeal to readers that enjoy a challenging novel and enjoy immersing themselves in a well developed character.
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 the famine of the 90s, Kim Johng Il, and Pyongoang. The idea that in this society the good of the collective matters more than the individual is played out throughout the book. Fascinating read, from the aspects of a view of to the country and the way it runs, to the effect the society has on its people.
Jerry P. (Santa Rosa, CA)
The Orphan Master's Son
I have mixed emotions regarding Adam Johnson's book. He is an excellent writer and thoroughly researched his subject - the clandestine country of North Korea and its people. He artfully portrayed the effects of living in an autocracy (e.g., the people became like robots.) I was reminded of the purges that occurred in the USSR under Joseph Stalin when I read about the torture the main character endured in prison and then had the unsettling realization that this country has a nuclear capability.
It took me a while to get accustomed to the lack of continuity between chapters especially the differing time periods and the incredible changes in the main character. I also keep reviewing what I had already read to keep on track.