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The Orphan Master's Son

A Novel

by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson X
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jan 2012, 464 pages
    Aug 2012, 480 pages


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There are currently 35 reader reviews for The Orphan Master's Son
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Shirley D. (Amherst, MA)

Brilliantly Written
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..
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.
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.
Joan B. (Ellicott City, MD)

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.
Suri F. (Durham, NC)

Detailed grimness
How amazed I was to note the detail with which life in Korea was depicted in this novel! I was drawn to the book because we know so little about that unhappy place, but stayed with it because of Johnson's keen sensibilities. Whether or not life there is as he depicts it, he certainly presents a fully realized picture of life under tyranny.
Amber B. (East Sparta, OH)

Well-written, engaging, but very heavy
To be honest, I'm still processing this book. It was amazingly well-written and engaging, but terrifying because of the unfathomable, hopeless conditions of the daily life that North Koreans face. It's a story that will make you consider the human will to survive, and what makes life worth living. It will compel you to ask how such a cruel regime - treating its own people so mercilessly - could possibly come into existence. The "Conversation between Adam Johnson and Richard Powers" at the end of the book is a must read to give readers some context. I want to read more by Adam Johnson!
Lori (Wayland, MA)

Orphan Master's Son
The intense book was compelling to read, but couldn’t have been more disturbing. If only a fraction of what was described was true, North Korea must be a nightmarish place for its inhabitants. I found some of the 2nd half of the book difficult to follow because of changes in perspective and events being out of sequence. I was glad the author managed to include some humor/satire with the horrifying story, and I am glad to learn something about North Korea.
Georganne F. (Tampa, FL)

A Towering Achievement?
This is a strong, beautifully written absolutely mesmerizing book. If, like me, you know next to nothing about North Korea you will be shocked, stunned and saddened, but you will also be unable to look away from this raw portrayal of life there. A portrayal not from the past, as you might expect from a novel but as North Korea is now, seemingly, a modern day dystopia. The extensive research the author did to write this book is apparent in every paragraph. He includes many actual events and weaves them in seamlessly with his fictional characters. The characters themselves are solid, believable and you find yourself sympathizing with, for the most part, both the good guys and the bad, with one exception: the character of North Korea’s ‘Dear Leader’. A great read, I highly recommend it. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. This is a book that will stay with me a long time, the last one that did that was Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. The publisher of the ‘Orphan Master’s Son’ promote it as “a towering achievement”, I have to agree.

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