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The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son (2012)

by Adam Johnson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8502373,090 (4.06)358
  1. 90
    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (kqueue)
    kqueue: A non-fiction account of people in North Korea. The hardships they endure at the hands of their government are jaw-dropping. It backs up everything in The Orphan Master's Son.
  2. 10
    The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi (alanteder)
  3. 10
    Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (Henrik_Madsen)
    Henrik_Madsen: Guy Delisle has based his graphic novel on his own experiences from North Korea - it is definitely also worth a read.
  4. 10
    The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B. R. Myers (bibliothequaire)
  5. 10
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (aethercowboy)
  6. 00
    Decoded by Mai Jia (Limelite)
    Limelite: Complex tales and artistic novels about individuals trapped in a tyrannical state and forced at the whim of totalitarian government to do work they are morally, emotionally and spiritually opposed to.
  7. 00
    Sons of Heaven by Terrence Cheng (booklove2)
    booklove2: Main characters have similar personalities, also they both battle regimes.
  8. 00
    A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power by Paul Fischer (Meredy)
    Meredy: When I read The Orphan Master's Son, I sensed that it was telling the truth in a way that only fiction can. This view of the DPRK regime seems to corroborate Johnson's surrealistic narrative to a degree of literalness that I did not anticipate.
  9. 01
    Number9Dream by David Mitchell (clfisha)
    clfisha: OK not really alike except in tone. A rollicking good adventure and playful narrative structure (Mitchell is more experimental).
  10. 15
    The Cider House Rules by John Irving (suniru)
    suniru: Although the settings are wildly different,the central figure in both books is the "head boy" in an orphanage. Also, "identity" is central to both books.

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» See also 358 mentions

English (233)  Dutch (2)  Danish (2)  German (2)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (244)
Showing 1-5 of 233 (next | show all)
Tough story in North Korea.Not a fun read.
  JoshSapan | May 29, 2019 |
This a the story of Jun Do, a North Korean “John Do” whose jobs include kidnapping expatriated Koreans in Japan and a radio operator (and suspected spy) on a North Korean Fishing Boat who through an embellished encounter with the U.S. Navy becomes a National Hero. Becoming a National Hero is more a curse as he ends up paraded before a U.S. Senator in Texas in a naive attempt to embarrass the Americans. With the party going to America is on one Kim Jong-Il’s Secretary’s and Korean Hero, Commander Ga. When the American Summit doesnt go quite as planned. The real Commander Ga presumably disappears and Jun Do becomes Commander Ga because of a tattoo of Commander Ga’s wife, a North Korean movie star. Doesn’t make sense, read the book. This dream opportunity ends up with Jun Do, the new Commander Ga in a North Korean Torture Facility. The nonchalant way the interrogators view torture is inhuman. . There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no happiness. There is not a single bright moment. I have read a few books set in North Korea. And I have yet to read anything up beat. This is a country unlike any other country past or present. I think to call it Communist of Socialist is inaccurate. Even with the weakness of Communist Theory I don’t think this is what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels nor even Mao Zedong had in mind. This is a complete autocracy. Where every individual thought is weighed against the honor of the great leader. An absolute paranoid culture where even the slightest misstep can be viewed as an affront to the great leader. Where the price to pay is that an already meager life can be made even more meager and full of more suffering. A country where the “official story”, true or not, is the truth. If that is the desired truth of the Great Leader. Truth is manufactured and made official. This reminds me much of George Orwell’s “1984”. If Orwell was predicting anything it was North Korea. “Thought Control” is North Korea’s bread and Butter. Absolutely crucial to its existence. Isolation of travel, information, culture, and ideas is how it’s accomplished. It’s been done so effectively in North Korea that I am not sure the North Korea people can be helped. The “Thought Control” is so effective I don’t think they know how wrong their Society is. The story is written so well I, as the reader, even became confused on who the real Commander Ga was (read the book and you’ll understand). A glimpse into a world you’ll find hard to believe exists. Frightening the degree to which the masses can be controlled. ( )
  tkgbjenn1 | May 1, 2019 |
This book was nowhere near the literary treasure trove that I thought it would be. The prose reads, throughout, dry and repetitive. I understand that it's hard to tell a story in this setting, but I found that the surprises were lackluster and the overall plot was meandering and lacking direction. Overall, a satisfactory read, but not a good one. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Apr 3, 2019 |
As I read this, I wondered how genuine the North Korean setting was intended to be, but the author makes clear in the notes at the back of the book that he has done his research. Nevertheless given the paucity of reliable sources, I couldn't see this as giving real insight into that country. What impressed me was its study of the human mind in the face of such extensive disinformation to the point of flying in the face of reality. The challenges of living in a world where, if the authorities say black is white, you agree because the consequences of not agreeing are extreme is clearly portrayed in all their complexity and contradictions. February 2019 ( )
  alanca | Mar 5, 2019 |
It is not every day to read a book describing the impossible life in North Korea as this is the primary virtue of this book. On the other hand, the plot is complicated, convoluted, not entirely readable and confusing to follow the characters and the plot. Either way, the book is recommended only to recognize the delusional reality of life in this totalitarian state. ( )
  Lithamerrsmith | Feb 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 233 (next | show all)
"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. "
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Susanne Wells (Nov 1, 2011)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Johnson, Adamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Powers, RichardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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my sun,
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Citizens, gather 'round your loudspeakers, for we bring important updates!
The darkness inside your head is something your imagination fills with stories that have nothing to do with the real darkness around you.
Compared to forgetting, did living really stand a chance?
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Book description
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.

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.
Haiku summary
Disturbing account
Of North Korea under
Kim Jong-Il. Tough stuff.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812992792, Hardcover)

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2012

Adam Johnson on The Orphan Master's Son

When I arrived at Pyongyang's Sunan Airport a few years ago, my head was still spinning from a landing on a runway lined with cattle, electric fences and the fuselages of other jets whose landings hadn't gone so well. Even though I'd spent three years writing and researching The Orphan Master's Son, I was unprepared for what I was about to encounter in “the most glorious nation in the world.”

I'd started writing about North Korea because of a fascination with propaganda and the way it prescribes an official narrative to an entire people. In Pyongyang, that narrative begins with the founding of a glorious nation under the fatherly guidance of Kim Il Sung, is followed by years of industry and sacrifice among its citizenry, so that when Kim Jong Il comes to power, all is strength, happiness and prosperity. It didn't matter that the story was a complete fiction--every citizen was forced to become a character whose motivations, desires and fears were dictated by this script. The labor camps were filled with those who hadn't played their parts, who'd spoken of deprivation instead of plenitude and the purest democracy.

When I visited places like Pyongyang, Kaesong City, Panmunjom and Myohyangsan, I understood that a genuine interaction with a North Korean citizen was unlikely, since contact with foreigners was illegal. As I walked the streets, not one person would risk a glance, a smile, even a pause in their daily routine. In the Puhung Metro Station, I wondered what happened to personal desires when they came into conflict with a national story. Was it possible to retain a personal identity in such conditions, and under what circumstances would a person reveal his or her true nature? These mysteries--of subsumed selves, of hidden lives, of rewritten longings--are the fuel of novels, and I felt a powerful desire to help reveal what a dynastic dictatorship had forced these people to conceal.

Of course, I could only speculate on those lives, filling the voids with research and imagination. Back home, I continued to read books and seek out personal accounts. Testimonies of gulag survivors like Kang Chol Hwan proved invaluable. But I found that most scholarship on the DPRK was dedicated to military, political and economic theory. Fewer were the books that focused directly on the people who daily endured such circumstances. Rarer were the narratives that tallied the personal cost of hidden emotions, abandoned relationships, forgotten identities. These stories I felt a personal duty to tell. Traveling to North Korea filled me with a sense that every person there, from the lowliest laborer to military leaders, had to surrender a rich private life in order to enact one pre-written by the Party. To capture this on the page, I created characters across all levels of society, from the orphan soldier to the Party leaders. And since Kim Jong Il had written the script for all of North Korea, my novel didn't make sense without writing his role as well.

Featured Photographs

Anti-tank devices seen while traveling south from Pyongyang toward Panmunj
  DPRK soldier
  Air raid sirens
  Revelutionary Martyr's Cemetery on Mount Taesong

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:15 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The son of an influential father who runs an orphan work camp, Pak Jun Do rises to prominence using instinctive talents and eventually becomes a professional kidnapper and romantic rival to Kim Jong Il.

» see all 6 descriptions

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