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The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) (original 2012; edition 2012)
by Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (2012)
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First edition signed, as new with remainder mark.
I've been dying to read this book ever since I saw Johnson speak at the National Book Festival. Let's just say he's really brilliant and really compelling in person.
This book was a really tough one for me to rate. There is a part of me that wants to award five stars out of respect for what Johnson tried to do - - the part that recognizes the amount of research that went into the book and the brilliance at recreating a believable North Korea. I see why it won the Pulitzer Prize - - the ending was very dramatic and really did make the book. The book truly had strong themes that were well developed - - love, identity, freedom - - all were addressed without telling the reader what to think. The author used three voices, and I think how he used them was unique and clever.
All that being said, I just didn't find the book enjoyable to read.
The plot focuses on one man, an orphan, trying to survive in the very oppressive North Korea. It follows him from his first career as a kidnapper to spying from a ship to a diplomatic mission in Texas. We also see North Korea through announcements made via loudspeaker to the citizenry and through the eyes of an investigator/torturer who works for the state.
The book has a lot of action, yet I really wasn't grabbed by it until the very end. Dare I say I found it a little bit boring. Maybe I just couldn't relate to what the main character was going through because it was so far out of my experience. Maybe it was because he didn't really come across as human until he had something to lose.
Another issue is that the book is just filled with horrible scene after horrible scene - - lots of torture. I actually like dark books, but in this case, I didn't relate enough to the characters to feel moved so I mostly just felt disgusted.
The love relationship that develops and finally makes the protagonist come alive just didn't read realistically to me.
The part that really cemented the three star rating for me though was the structure of the book. This book is not written in a linear way, and the author doesn't give a whole lot of clues where you are in time or in the story. David Mitchell did this well in Cloud Atlas. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is also not linear, but gives you dates as heading chapters which helps a lot. This book has two GIANT chapters and that's it. It's disorienting. I think the author wanted the reader to feel disoriented, but it distracted me from key points in the plot, and I felt myself getting confused. I hesitate to say this, but for some reason I felt a LOT like I did when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Somewhat lost and not really wanting to read slowly and carefully enough to be found.
All in all, I'm glad I stuck it out because the ending was strong, and I did, on some level, appreciate it the book for its literary prowess. But I can't see myself actually recommending this book to many people.
An astonishingly great novel. Confusing in bits and a bit long for my ADHD tendencies, but wow. Scary, funny, beautiful, haunting, melancholy, weird.
paints quite the picture of North Korea...well written, dark story, don't read this looking for an uplifting tale but really well told
"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. "
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Wikipedia in English (1)
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.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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