The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son

A Novel

Book - 2012
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Publisher: New York : Random House, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780812982626
Characteristics: 443 p. ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Orphan master's son


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Jul 05, 2020

I've read this book twice and listened to the audio book twice. If you're stuck in the beginning, just keep reading. Keep reading! This is such a powerful and shocking book that was inspired by true stories of defectors from North Korea. I love the half-way mark between part one and part two. I love the back and forth of the propaganda and the storyteller's view. The inspirational characters such as the girl rower, Commander Buc, and and, of course, Sun Moon are amazing. The various plot settings: on the ship, in Japan, in Texas, in the prison camp, the Ingrid Bergman Hollywood pavement star, all buffet and shape the main character. The creepy guy and, of course, the Dear Leader raise the hairs on your arms.

May 11, 2020

I was engrossed in The Orphan Master's Son from the opening broadcast to the citizens of the greatest nation in the world, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, to the ending pages. These broadcasts happen every day and highlight the theme of the novel, the fantasy version of life vs. the horrific reality of life in North Korea. As Adam Johnson says in the end notes: "Your loyalties must lie with the regime first and your family second, which makes an orphan of everyone to some degree, and the Kim regime the true orphan master." I experienced every emotion in between: happiness sadness, horror, surprise, love, optimism, loss. The characters are amazing and there are hidden layers to every thought, word, and action. As the main character, Pak Jun Do (John Doe) emphasizes, in North Korea it is not about the person -- it is about the Nation. You survive as long as you are useful. When you stop being useful, you are done. It is an amazing way to think about your life.

Although a fiction, Johnson did a considerable amount of research for this book, including visiting Pyongyang. It is one of the saddest, most horrific books I have ever read. I knew practically nothing about North Korea before starting. During my reading, I did a tiny bit of research just to understand the places, the history, the culture, and the language. (I say tiny because what can you ever truly know about North Korea?) I don't want to give anything away but it is basically about the life of Pak Jun Do, who we meet as a young orphan. "As the book opens, he's an everyman, a character who does what he's told when he's told, however grim the task, and he doesn't ask questions." He seemingly drifts through life, not questioning anything. Until he does. It is not exactly an uplifting story but it has its moments. The human spirit is nothing but incredible.

Johnson writes that this is a trauma narrative and "North Korea, I believe, is a trauma narrative on a national scale." That says it all and there is nothing left to say.

Jan 18, 2020

I no longer want this book. Please erase.

Mar 29, 2019

An emotional tour de force, Pak Jun Do's journey is an amazing revelation of the Byzantine maze of horrors that is modern totalitarianism. That "The Orphan Master's Son" displays some of the most horrendous abuses of the DPRK is almost secondary- this is a tale of the submersion of the human will through blunt application of the propagandist's tools- deception, idol worship, misdirection, repression- and the indomitable impulse to struggle against such coercion.

VaughanPLErin Feb 23, 2019

An emotionally difficult, but rewarding read. While many of the details are from Johnson's imagination, much of his writing is informed by interviews with escapees from North Korea. Combining his research with some artistic liberties, Johnson shows how a totalitarian society and horrendous conditions shape the way human minds and identities are formed.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson was the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction and it doesn’t disappoint. This is the story of Pak Jun Do; the orphan turned kidnapper turned fishing boat signal operator turned diplomat turned commander. Enter the hidden world of North Korea where propaganda and the authority of the Dear Leader are the only things that can be counted on. I am a bit of a Korea buff so finding this wonderfully written and frighteningly real story was a real treat. I tell friends that if they want to get a sense of North Korea to read this book along with Nothing to Envy: ordinary lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick and Dear Leader: poet, spy, escapee by Jin-Sung Jang. (Submitted by Braden).

RogerDeBlanck Jul 27, 2018

Johnson’s novel The Orphan Master’s Son deserves placement on a list of contemporary masterpieces that may include such memorable works as Morrison’s Beloved, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Robinson’s Gilead, and Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One measure of great literature is its ability to be life-affirming. Johnson challenges our intellectual foundation and unseats our moral capacity by giving us a terrifying glimpse of life inside North Korea. In doing so, he alters our understanding of the extent of human atrocities and amplifies the power of the human heart.

Told primarily through the experiences of the remarkable character of Pak Jun Do, Johnson allows us to feel the horror and violence of one of the world’s most maniacal regimes. Jun Do’s hard life leaves you full of compassion for the pain and suffering he endures. But even while your heartstrings are wrenched, your pulse will be racing as you take the plight with Jun Do into the darkest machinations of the North Korean government. When cruelty and sorrow seem certain to crush Jun Do, his perseverance and courage grow stronger.

Johnson’s narrative is mind-bending with its bizarre circumstances and shifting voices. It is equally thrilling to find out what will happen next. The story ranges from stylistic elements of satire, adventure, survival, and even romance, but its many layers and dimensions only contribute to its greatness. This novel demands a lot from readers, but the rewards are immense. The Orphan Master’s Son is a feat of literary imagination at the highest rank.

suzannethomas Apr 27, 2018

This 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction is a riveting read. A masterful story-teller, the author moves between the absurd to the obscene while describing life in North Korea and how much suffering and deprivation humans can endure while remaining human. A fast paced, political thriller, if you enjoyed “1984”, “Oryx and Crake” or “The Hunger Games”, give this a try.

Apr 10, 2018

Learn something about Korea and read an usual story.

Nov 21, 2017

This is about Pak Jun Do a boy whose father is an illegal child labor enforcer in North Korea. Pak soon takes on his father's role and rises through the ranks but because of impossible demands from his superiors, he soon becomes enemies with the dictator Kim Jong Il. But then risks it all to be with the woman he loves, an actress. This book didn't really explore some aspects that I was hoping it would, and when I first picked it up I thought it was going to be from the perspective of one of the actual child slaves escaping. The story itself was very well written, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone else.
- @Florence of the Teen Review Board of the Hamilton Public Library

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May 11, 2020

"Ga thought about reminding the Dear Leader that they lived in a land where people had been trained to accept any reality presented to them. He considered sharing how there was only one penalty, the ultimate one, for questioning reality, how a citizen could fall into great jeopardy for simply noticing that realities had changed. Even a warden wouldn't risk that."

May 11, 2020

"'What do the words mean?'

'They're about a woman whose beauty is like a rare flower. There is a man who has a great love for her, a love he's been saving up for his entire life, and it doesn't matter that he must make a great journey to her, and it doesn't matter if their time together is brief, that afterwards he might lose her, for she is the flower of his heart and nothing will keep him from her.'"

May 11, 2020

"Who had thought up this place? Who had concocted its existence? How ugly and laughable was the idea of a quilt to Comrade Buc's wife? Where was the pattern, with what fabric, would someone sew the story of life in this place? If he had learned anything about the real Commander Ga by living in his clothes and sleeping in his bed, it was the fact that this place had made him. In North Korea, you weren't born, you were made, and the man that had done the making, he was working late tonight."

May 11, 2020

"There were people who came into your life and cost you everything. Comrade Buc's wife was right about that. It had felt pretty shitty being one of those people. He had been the person who took. He'd been the one who was taken. And he'd been the one left behind. Next he would find out what it was like to be all three at once."

May 11, 2020

""A name isn't a person,' Ga said. 'Don't ever remember someone by their name. To keep someone alive, you put them inside you, you put their face on your heart. Then, no matter where you are, they're always with you because they're a part of you.' He put his hands on their shoulders. 'It's you that matters, not your names. It's the two of you I'll never forget.'"

May 11, 2020

"What had started as the children's song had become her song, and when the chords become disconnected, the notes wayward and alone, he understood that it was his. Finally, she stopped playing and leaned slowly forward until her forehead came to rest against the fine wood of an instrument she would never play again."

May 11, 2020

"In Prison 33, little by little, you relinquished everything, starting with your tomorrows and all that might be. Next went your past, and suddenly it was inconceivable that your head had ever touched a pillow, that you'd once used a spoon or a toilet, that your mouth had once known flavors and your eyes had beheld colors beyond gray and brown and the shade of black that blood took on. Before you relinquished yourself -- Ga had felt it starting, like the numb of cold limbs -- you let go of all the others, each person you'd once known. They became ideas and then notions and then impressions, and then they were as ghostly as projections against a prison infirmary. Sun Moon appeared to him now like this, not as a woman, vital and beautiful, making an instrument speak her sorrow, but as the flicker of someone once known, a photo of a person long gone."

May 11, 2020

"Is a destination worth reaching if you can't recall the journey? I'd say so. Is a new life worth living if you can't recollect the old one? All the better."

May 11, 2020

"Officially, the government took no position on what occurred while its citizens were asleep, but isn't something of the dreamer to be found in his dream?"

May 11, 2020

"'How does a society without a fatherly leader work?' Sun Moon implored. 'How can a citizen know what is best without a benevolent hand to shepherd her? Isn't that endurance, learning how to navigate such a realm alone -- isn't that survival?'"

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Jun 19, 2015

katrinalp01 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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Aug 23, 2016

Johnson's narrative portrays his hero as he makes his way through a minefield of corruption and violence, eventually giving his all so that his loved ones might have a better life. VERDICT 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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