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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel
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Showing 1-9 of 9 reviews(5 star)show all reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon January 25, 2012
Let me start by saying I was so impressed with this novel that I am going to come across like Adam Johnsons' mum, publisher, editor, best friend, paid acquaintance or a combination of any of the above. I was actually lucky enough to get a copy and just read it. The blurb makes it sound like a sort of comedy set in North Korea, in actuality it is a staggering achievement as to what you can do when you truly love the subject as Johnson does.

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. This is done oft times by seeing if they can fend off his 'man attacks' ' a veiled euphemism for full on rear entry intercourse. If you fail well then you must have wanted it ' makes perfect sense.

This book was researched by Adam Johnson for over six years and he visited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to ensure authenticity. He has crammed so much in that it is as educational as it is both entertaining and moving. He brings all the characters to life and brilliantly highlights the failings of the West when viewed through the eyes of the North Koreans. Whilst at the heart of this there is a central theme of love and sacrifice, there is hope, there is humour, though comi-tragic would probably best describe it; but moreover there is a page turner of a story that had me hooked from the start and kept me right to the end. I actually had a dream about the characters at one point, I was that caught up in the book. I can not say enough good things about this brilliant, original, fascinating and thoroughly captivating read. I am longing for his next one and even if it takes another six years it will be worth the wait.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Firstly, the standard disclaimer. I received this book in a GoodReads drawing so it made its way to my door at no cost as part of the book's marketing. Even so, as always I will endeavor to give the book an honest airing.

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!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2013
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 experience. Based on facts, historical events, places and people, this non-fiction peice of literary heaven will leave you wanting more from the first page right through to the last. A great read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2013
Not having many preconceived ideas about a story which takes place in North Korea, I was soon gripped by this unique, complex tale. The author takes the reader places which are highly uncomfortable, while intriguing. The characters are well-developed and leave an impression, although a haunting one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2013
This book captures well what must be a completely disorienting experience living in North Korea. A well told story that maintains a perfect pace and level of tension throughout.
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on May 18, 2015
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. A truly great read and horrifically realistic insight as to what North Korea may be like.
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on June 21, 2013
Unique book. Loved it. The setting of North Korea, with its cruel absurdity, allows for a great story to be told.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2012
I have just finished this novel and was transfixed by it: the author pulls us in to imagine life in the horror of North Korea. But not without compassion and humour - how each character's life is confused and corrupted by the greater deceptions of the state, but how a sly humour can survive, and love and honour can exist. The main character Jun do is a classic hero: a lost boy who must journey and undergo pain and suffering to win love, but who will give himself up in the end for love, and his story is beautifully told, but it is the other stories as well that will steal into your mind: the Interrogator who has gotten entranced by the story of his subjects not the confession; The ship's Captain who always must make choices and sacrifices for his crew; Dr. Song who can weave his way through the stories and lies of diplomacy. The list is endless, I think these people will haunt me for a long time.
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on June 18, 2015
Very good but very sad too.
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