The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jan 10 2012
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“An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.”—Pulitzer Prize citation
“All of these elements—stylistic panache, technical daring, moral weight and an uncanny sense of the current moment—combine in Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, the single best work of fiction published in 2012. . . . The book's cunning, flair and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word.” —The Wall Street Journal
“The Orphan Master’s Son performs an unusual form of sorcery, taking a frankly cruel and absurd reality and somehow converting it into a humane and believable fiction. It’s an epic feat of story-telling. It’s thrillingly written, and it's just thrilling period.” —Zadie Smith, Los Angeles Times
“A great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction. That’s the genius of The Orphan Master’s Son. Adam Johnson has taken the papier-mâché creation that is North Korea and turned it into a real and riveting place that readers will find unforgettable. This is a novel worth getting excited about, one which more than delivers on its pre-publication buzz… I haven’t liked a new novel this much in years, and I want to share the simple pleasure of reading the book. But I also think it’s an instructive lesson in how to paint a fictional world against a background of fact: The secret is research…It’s this process of re-imagination that makes the fictional locale so real and gives the novel an impact you could never achieve with a thousand newspaper stories. Johnson has painted in indelible colors the nightmare of Kim’s North Korea. When English readers want to understand what it was about — how people lived and died inside a cult of personality that committed unspeakable crimes against its citizens — I hope they will turn to this carefully documented story. The happy surprise is that they will find it such a page turner.” —The Washington Post
“Adam Johnson's remarkable novel The Orphan Master’s Son is set in North Korea, an entire nation that has conformed to the fictions spun by a dictator and his inner circle…Mr. Johnson is a wonderfully flexible writer who can pivot in a matter of lines from absurdity to atrocity…We don't know what's really going on in that strange place, but a disquieting glimpse suggesting what it must be like can be found in this brilliant and timely novel.” —Wall Street Journal
"A harrowing, clever, incomparable riff on life in Kim Jong Il's North Korea” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Magnificently accomplished…Part thriller, part coming-of-age novel, part romance, The Orphan Master’s Son is made sturdy by research…but what makes it so absorbing isn’t its documentary realism but the dark flight of the author's imagination…rich with a sense of discovery…The year is young, but The Orphan Master’s Son has an early lead on novel of 2012” —The Daily Beast
"Providing a rare glimpse into one of the world’s least known countries, Adam Johnson weaves a tale of hardship, romance, and redemption in North Korea in The Orphan Master’s Son." —National Geographic Traveler
“An incredibly vivid page-turner of a novel…Romance, coming-of-age tale, adventure and thriller all in one, this book is singular and not to be missed.” —The Huffington Post, 10 Best January Must-Reads
"The death of Kim Jong Il couldn't have come at a better time for novelist Adam Johnson. The Orphan Master’s Son is a richly textured political thriller about the hidden world of North Korea with all of its misery, violence and defiant acts of love under impossible circumstances. Stunning and evocative imagery abounds on every page.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Startling…Johnson's carefully layered story feels authentic...[He] writes light-footed prose, barely allowing harrowing glimpses of atrocity to register before accelerating onward. He resists the temptation to turn his subject matter into comic fodder, but never ignores the absurdity, provoking laughter with jagged edges that tends to die in your throat.” —Newsday
“Johnson’s novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an American writer has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. While oppressive propaganda echoes throughout, the tone never slides into caricature; if anything, the story unfolds with astounding empathy for those living in constant fear of imprisonment—or worse—but who manage to maintain their humanity against all odds. The book traces the journey of Jun Do, who for years lives according to the violent dictates of the state, as a tunnel expert who can fight in the dark, a kidnapper, radio operator, tenuous hero, and foreign dignitary before eventually taking his fate into his own hands. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, a government interrogator, who tortures innocent citizens on a daily basis, remembers his own childhood and the way in which his father explained the inexplicable: ‘...we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.’ In this moment and a thousand others like it, Johnson juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope.” —Publisher's Weekly, (STARRED REVIEW )
“[A] fantastical, careening tale…Informed by extensive research and travel to perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, Johnson has created a remarkable novel that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief.…Johnson winningly employs different voices, with the propagandizing national radio station serving as a mad Greek chorus. Part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and part romance, The Orphan Master's Son is a triumph on every level.” —Booklist, (STARRED REVIEW)
“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.” —Library Journal, (STARRED REVIEW)
“[A] vivid, violent portrait of a nation…[a] macabrely realistic, politically savvy, satirically spot-on saga. Johnson’s metathriller, spiked with gory intrigues and romantic subplots, is a ripping piece of fiction that is also an astute commentary on the nature of freedom, sacrifice, and glory in a world where everyone’s “a survivor who has nothing to live for.” —Elle
“Ambitious, violent, audacious—and stunningly good.” —O Magazine
“Adam Johnson has pulled off literary alchemy, first by setting his novel in North Korea, a country that few of us can imagine, then by producing such compelling characters whose lives unfold at breakneck speed. I was engrossed right to the amazing conclusion. The result is pure gold, a terrific novel.” —Abraham Verghese
“An addictive novel of daring ingenuity; a study of sacrifice and freedom in a citizen-eating dynasty; and a timely reminder that anonymous victims of oppression are also human beings who love. A brave and impressive book.” —David Mitchell
“I've never read anything like it. This is truly an amazing reading experience, a tremendous accomplishment. I could spend days talking about how much I love this book. It sounds like overstatement, but no. The Orphan Master's Son is a masterpiece.” —Charles Bock
About the Author
Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Tin House, Granta, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories. His other works include Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us. He lives in San Francisco.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
It is in two parts, the first chronicles the life or rather endurance and suffering of Jun Do; he is the son of the Orphan Master, after his mother was taken away to entertain the big wigs in Pyongyang, they were left alone. All beautiful girls from the provinces are taken away like this. It is also shameful to be an orphan and they have their real names ignored and are replaced with the names of fallen martyrs. This way they will always carry the mark and shame of being an orphan. Jun Do's father pretends he too is an orphan and treats him more harshly than the others, it is an existence of grinding poverty ' made worse by the compulsory loud speakers that spout blatant propaganda all day and act as brain washing devices.
In turns he becomes a tunnel assassin in the Demilitarized Zone, a kidnapper and reluctant and not very good spy. He also ends up on a fishing boat where he gets the love of his life's image tattooed over his heart ' the 'best actress in the world' Sun Moon - not her real name, but chosen for her by The Dear Leader Kim Jong Il; or the fat tyrant who is famous for his song 'I so Ronery', as we know him in the Imperialist West.
Then Part Two deals with the Taekwando Champion of the World and husband to the best actress ' Commander Ga. He is famous for many things including ridding the army of homosexuals.Read more ›
I rated the Orphan Master at 5 stars but to be honest it's a rather weak five stars. The topic, the novel and varied life of a North Korean orphan and conscripted soldier, is automatically amusing before the second page is even turned. We get to see what life is at least theorized to be like in that backwards little Asian country. The depiction is keenly Orwellian and inspires great pity for a people so ruthlessly used by a tyrant for generations.
All that said though it does begin, after a while to inspire a bit of ennui. There's only so much to say and Johnson seems to say it again and again and again. At half way I was a ship happily adrift in the sea of this novel. By the last few pages I was just tired and looking for the shore. The ending, though dramatic and appropriate, failed to spur me to awe because of the length of time it took to get to it and the fact that it was fairly obvious after all the lead-up.
Well worth a read, perhaps spread out over a lazy week or so. Transitions between narrators can be abrupt in the last half of the book though so take special care to figure out exactly who it is suddenly using the first person before you go to far. Enjoy!
I realize this author was awarded the Pulitzer Prize be sure to read the short interview at the end w editor asking the questions. As this is a novel & not based on real characters, I know of the propaganda constantly being fed to the poor to ensure allegiance to "Dear Dictator, the father" before family members. The great famine is not exaggerated, (the worst imaginable, hundreds of thousands died, yet outside aid was rejected which oddly is absent, I believe, in this narrative)Imo, there were too many scenarios that were obviously created to personalize , since the author was not given access to interview the 'common pple' during his visit to N K. As expected, he was escorted & closely watched as he made his way to sites & places. He was allowed to request (within reason of a Communist country living in the dark day & night where pple were made to believe there were no better places & contained elements of deprived living, , working in terrible conditions however he went to an Orphanage which has a constant underscoring in the story. The rest of his information was through interviewing those who defected, though he d o es say few do.
In my opinion, there was one flaw in the conveying the reality of N.Read more ›
After the orphanage is devastated, Jun Do is sent to the military where first he undertakes training in zero-light combat in the tunnels under the demilitarized zone, and then on an undercover mission which involves kidnapping Japanese from the beaches. And then, Jun Do is sent to language school to learn English, which gets him assigned to a boat to transcribe radio intercepts. Once back on land, he is assigned to an intelligence team travelling to Texas where he meets a Senator and his wife.
`There's no way around it: to get a new life, you've got to trade in your old one.'
After returning from Texas, Jun Do ends up in a labour camp where he takes over the life and identity of a North Korean military hero, Commander Ga. In this half of the novel, the depiction of North Korea may exceed a reader's wildest imaginings. `The Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il, who died shortly before this book was published, is Commander Ga's rival for the affections of Commander Ga's wife, an actress named Sun Moon.
It's complicated, and convoluted and doesn't always make sense.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
An awesome read holding you captive from the beginning page. Sending you tumbling into confusion as the time and narrative changes. Could not put it down. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Mealoaf
Half way through this difficult read and will not continue. Have already grasped the essential message that North Korea is dehumanizing .. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Avid reader
The anti- North Korean bias made characterization irrelevant - but an unusual narrative structure - Pulitzer worthy - not sure.Published 14 months ago by Victor Garaway
The book was confusing and unclear in the characterization of the main characters. I kept losing the main gist of the story. It was confusing at times.Published 21 months ago by P D Stanley Beck
This is a very strange book. I am not sure how representative it is of North Korea. It definitely left me wondering.Published 22 months ago by Fred Paranchych
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The author did a lot of research on life in North Korea and it comes across in the writing to completely immerse you in the... Read morePublished on Dec 28 2013 by LindsayHawes
Not having many preconceived ideas about a story which takes place in North Korea, I was soon gripped by this unique, complex tale. Read morePublished on Oct. 5 2013 by SV