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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Von Selicor Am hilfreichsten 07.05.2018
North Korea as Reality TV
On the lookout for new audiobook pastures I thought I could choose a Pulitzer Price winner and spare me the research. Big mistake! I should have known better than to naively suppose that any price would guarantee a good book.
I really tried! I kept listening and went back again and again when I realized that my mind kept drifting. At one point I decided to give up and admit defeat.
Perhaps if I had not read those other two books before, written by people who had actually grown up in North Korea and knew what they were talking about, perhaps then I may not have been so critical. But the bleak, hungry reality of those personal accounts and the deeply damaged people that resulted from decades of mortal threat and an impossibility to trust anyone had made a lasting impression upon me.
In my ears Adam Johnson’s book has an artificial, false ring to it. It is a piece of literature that draws its characters and scenery from a reality he either does not really know or does not care very much about. Everyone knows that North Korea is where the bad guys rule and life is a mess. So why not use it as a background for good fiction, well-spun sentences, entertaining characters.
I am of the opinion that Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son is to life in North Korean what reality TV is to our lives in the West. It is meant to entertain and attract viewers but it couldn’t care less about real life and the people used in its episodes.
Last time I gave back a book on Audible, I realized too late that I could not write a review about it any more. By now I have learnt. I want to give other listeners a chance to think twice before choosing this book. Time is precious and The Orphan Master’s Son is a cheap shot.