The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son

A Novel

Paperback - 2012
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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.
Publisher: New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2012.
Edition: Random House trade pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9780812982626
Characteristics: 456 p. ; 21 cm.


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Mar 30, 2017

An unimaginable world, beautifully expressed in words.

Sep 07, 2016

Such a long novel that I had difficulty finding the motivation to finish. Excellent story teller - I just was hoping to find a purpose/direction to the stories. Perhaps I will finish after a mental break.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 03, 2016

In its entirety, The Orphan Master's Son is quite a feat of storytelling. The unraveling! The nuances! Johnson has pieced together details so relevant, so numerous, I imagine I missed so much brilliance. It all fits together so perfectly.

Mar 11, 2016

Ironic and thought provoking. Loved it.

Mar 11, 2016

The novel centers on Pak Jun Do, a North Korean noticed for his talents and loyalty who quickly rises through the ranks to increasingly important roles. It could be called a Bildungsroman since Jun Do's education never stops as he develops a more complex consciousness in each role. Jun Do was the son of the leader of an orphanage/work camp (the Orphan Master of the title) and a singer. His mother's beauty is noticed and she was abducted for an official in Pyongyang. To avoid showing favoritism to his son, the Orphan Master gives him a typical orphan name from the list of Grand Martyrs of the Revolution. Because of this, Jun Do has to continually explain why he isn't an orphan. North Korean stigmas run throughout the novel: orphans (ironic given how many were made because of the government, vicious in its alleged good intentions), dogs, and black & white movies for examples.

The running joke about Jun Do (think John Doe)'s orphan status is only one small part of the humor in the novel. Many examples come from the absurdity of the government and its loyal followers while others come reflect the inability of the North Koreans to fathom what is actually happening around them (such as Jun Do's ignorance about the International Space Station while listening to their communication transmissions). The story follows one improbable episode after another, believable because of the implausible nature of North Korea.

Johnson includes many ghastly events, such as blood harvesting and assembly-line lobotomies. His descriptions are matter-of-fact since there is no need to embellish the horrific practices. The desire for complete control shows in almost every action by government leaders, even in individuals trying to provide a more humane system of torture.

Jun Do realizes there is a better world and never stops striving to improve conditions for those he loves…something that can only be done outside of North Korea. Very highly recommended.

Feb 17, 2016

Yes, this book was sometimes confusing. That very fact reflected for me the chaos that was wreaked on individuals by the blind narcissistic policies of the DRNK leaders. Moral struggles, plot twists, character development: this book has it all.

Feb 16, 2016

Just absolutely heartbreaking, devastating, depressing, and somehow still beautiful. I've always been fascinated with North Korea, but mostly thought of it as kind of harmless and ridiculous. But because of this book (which Johnson researched intensely), I will never think of North Korea again with anything but profound sadness. My soul hurts thinking about those poor trapped people. Damn, this is a powerful book.

annobooks Dec 03, 2015

Several hundred pages in I just had to surrender and give up reading this oppressive novel.

Oct 19, 2015

A well researched and exciting book. The author has spent time in North Korea and it shows in the small details of the story. The setting and some of the situations seem fantastical and too sadistic to be real, yet the author once stated that he toned some of it down as reality in North Korea is even worse.
He is excellent at setting the mood of living in a paranoid and oppressive state and makes it a visceral experience. Well worth the read!

Aug 14, 2015

As far as I know, there are very few works of literary fiction about North Korea. So this book is definitely unique. I can tell the author really did his research--there's lots of details on daily life in this totalitarian state. He made the novel about ordinary people. However, I had trouble following the narrative--it's a little disjointed, almost dreamlike. Also, some parts really dragged. The novel overall certainly wasn't bad, but by the time I finished reading it I was more than ready to move on to something else.

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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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