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Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
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Orphan Master's Son (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Adam Johnson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,4921664,973 (4.06)236
Member:eo206
Title:Orphan Master's Son
Authors:Adam Johnson
Info:Doubleday Books (2012), Hardcover, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Fiction, suspense, multiple narrators, library, North Korea, prison

Work details

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (2012)

  1. 70
    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 Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B. R. Myers (bibliothequaire)
  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. 00
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (aethercowboy)
  5. 00
    Sons of Heaven by Terrence Cheng (booklove2)
    booklove2: Main characters have similar personalities, also they both battle regimes.
  6. 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).
  7. 13
    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.
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» See also 236 mentions

English (164)  Danish (2)  Dutch (2)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (172)
Showing 1-5 of 164 (next | show all)
Literally fabulous. A redolence of Kafka, and the reader (or at least this one) is always asking where is the line between fact and fiction. Brilliantly plotted with surprises abounding and confronting mysteries that make you think our dear author has made some basic error, only to be satisfied smiling at his craft within a few pages as you realise he has shifted ground and you are just catching up.

A worthy book to get an insight into the bizarre world of North Korea, but more worthy as great writing offering a rewarding reading experience. ( )
  PhilipJHunt | Sep 2, 2014 |
Hard to describe this book and really do it justice. Truly excellent - lived up to all of the praise/awards. Disturbing and hard to read but so worth reading. ( )
  CS2014 | Aug 8, 2014 |
Reading this book was a bit like reading a Murakami - it's hard to distinguish between fact and fantasy and the plot seems to hover in a dream-like limbo between fantasy and reality. But unlike Murakami, the fantasy part of this story is not the creation of an omnipotent author, but the result of the North Korean government weaving a set of tales that blur the lines between fact and fiction. The hero of this story, Jun Do (which intentionally sounds like John Doe) is a boy who grows up living in an orphanage although both parents are still living, his mother taken by the state and his father runs the orphanage. Through hard work, resourcefulness, and a bit of luck, Jun Do moves up in society and has an interesting career performing different tasks for the state - like running raids to Japan to kidnap people when there is a need for certain skills. But eventually, his loyalty to the country is tested as he sees more and more of the sham behind the smoke and mirrors running the country.

The story is beautifully written and at points is actually humorous, although the descriptions of life under the tyrannical rule of the 'Dear Leader' are pretty bleak and in some parts, absolutely gruesome. Reading this book made me wonder how much it reflects the true nature of this enigmatic country. ( )
  jmoncton | Jul 27, 2014 |
Fantastic story, a whirlwind tour of the entire North Korean infrastructure. The reader is escorted from peasantry through the elite cadre of Pyongyang, in this expository fiction that humanizes the oppressed people of the Hermit Kingdom. Lavish prose and humbling, grounding moments make it easy to connect with this story, set in the isolated empire that thrives off of opacity and misdirection. The author truly dedicated himself to serious, well-rounded research and it shows in this insane and frighteningly accurate portrayal of the DPRK. ( )
  sxoidmal | Jul 9, 2014 |
Wow! ( )
  Jolynne | Jul 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 164 (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)
 

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Johnson, Adamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Powers, RichardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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FOR STEPHANIE -
my sun,
my moon,
my star and,
satellite
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Citizens, gather 'round your loudspeakers, for we bring important updates!
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.
(passion4reading)

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:18 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother--a singer "stolen" to Pyongyang--and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy's loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself "a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world," Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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