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19 hrs 22 min An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work ca 19 hrs 22 min An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.” Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers. --penguinrandomhouseaudio.com


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19 hrs 22 min An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work ca 19 hrs 22 min An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea. Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.” Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers. --penguinrandomhouseaudio.com

30 review for The Orphan Master's Son

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stephen King

    In a stunning feat of imagination, Johnson puts us inside Jun Do (yep, John Doe), a North Korean orphan who stumbles from poverty to a job as body double for a Hero of the Eternal Revolution. The closed world of North Korea revealed here—where businessmen are conscripted to work in the rice fields and the ruthless Kim Jong-il is still the Dear Leader—goes beyond anything Orwell ever imagined. The Orphan Master’s Son veers from cold terror to surrealistic humor with ease, and succeeds as both a t In a stunning feat of imagination, Johnson puts us inside Jun Do (yep, John Doe), a North Korean orphan who stumbles from poverty to a job as body double for a Hero of the Eternal Revolution. The closed world of North Korea revealed here—where businessmen are conscripted to work in the rice fields and the ruthless Kim Jong-il is still the Dear Leader—goes beyond anything Orwell ever imagined. The Orphan Master’s Son veers from cold terror to surrealistic humor with ease, and succeeds as both a thriller and a social satire. Put it on your shelf next to Catch-22.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    CITIZENS, gather 'round the individualistic screens of your capitalistically-exploited folding-computers and other pocket-sized computational devices! The Dear Reviewer has much omniscient wisdom and many synoptic truths to impart! Set aside your Facebook and Twitter feeds and summon every last ounce of patriotic love for and devotion to the Democratic People’s Republic of Goodreads in order to focus your cluttered Western minds and screen-worn eyes for several uninterrupted minutes on this upda CITIZENS, gather 'round the individualistic screens of your capitalistically-exploited folding-computers and other pocket-sized computational devices! The Dear Reviewer has much omniscient wisdom and many synoptic truths to impart! Set aside your Facebook and Twitter feeds and summon every last ounce of patriotic love for and devotion to the Democratic People’s Republic of Goodreads in order to focus your cluttered Western minds and screen-worn eyes for several uninterrupted minutes on this update of paramount significance from your Dear Reviewer! [END TRANSMISSION] A Terse Intrusion of Self-Awareness I’ve been really fascinated and concerned with North Korea for years now. I didn’t suddenly take an interest now that I’ve ex-patriated to South Korea, to Incheon, more specifically, which is a mid-sized metropolis only a handful of miles from the mine-filled border separating N./S. Korea. But I can’t deny that reading this book now (after a few months of becoming more intimate with Korean culture and history, both through Korean people and the further reading of books and viewing of documentaries{1}) doesn’t have some influence on my reading. I just don’t know exactly what that influence is. In any case, I find these kind of meta-review musings to quickly become tiresome at this point in my GRing career and only worth a severely limited number of keystrokes, so I’ll leave it to rest—right—here. ____________________________________________ {1}Kimjongilia — A fantastic documentary largely consisting of interviews with former North Koreans who’ve managed to escape the country. Crossing the Line — A documentary about a former US Army soldier who willingly crossed the DMZ in the early 60’s and defected to North Korea. He’s lived there for 46 years. A truly bizarre story. Fascinating stuff. Watch the whole thing on YouTube here. A State of Mind — A documentary about two young girls training for North Korea’s annual, jaw-dropping spectacle known as Mass Games. Whole thing is here. Inside North Korea — One of the first documentaries I watched. Another fascinating look into the country. Watch it here. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick — Read the first chapter online here. ____________________________________________ Exploded Preconceptions The Orphan Master’s Son really defied and surpassed my expectations in at least two basic ways: 1. As a whole, this novel was even more enjoyable and impressive than I was excitedly expecting based upon this great review of it—the review that instantly caused my cursor to float over the ‘add to my books’ button and my finger to give the clicking go-ahead. 2. Once inside the book it circumnavigated my plot point projections and hypotheses and went in directions—both in story and style—that I didn’t possibly see coming, not in the slightest. Begin With Not Knowing Where To Begin The book is jam-packed with so much well-crafted, deeply-researched and deftly-executed writing that it’s difficult to know where to begin, and like with many great books, when I get down into trenches of the review I have to eventually just leave my desire to drop in copious details (and potential spoilers) at the door and just go ahead give the mountain-top view in panoramic snapshots. [I’ll forego all plot overviews and focus on stylistic and thematic ones. For a good synopsis see the one in the above-linked review and couple that with the publisher’s for good measure.] Positioning the Pen The prose is rich without being decadent. There’s a beautiful restraint and writerly self-control to be felt that also doesn’t sacrifice beauty for utility or baroque verbosity for inelegance or bareness. It reminded me in a distant way of the pitch-perfection of several other language-master authors that have little else in common, namely the recent efforts of both Ben Marcus and Heidi Julavits. I read a lot of experimental/surreal fiction, and love much of it, and this book is so reality-based and amazingly well-researched—yet—since it’s based on such a strange, time-warp reality such as North Korea, it sometimes brushes up against similarly bizarre tones and registers but with the more extreme heartrending ends that seriously reality-based fiction can deliver on its best days. So many vivid descriptions are stuck to my memory now. The roiling black waters of the freezing ocean. The slowly suffocating shark’s eyes being "stupid with death." The nightly pitch-black of Pyongyang. The unthinkable hunger of comrades. The terrible blue flash of would-be escapees colliding with electric fences. The daily propagandistic bombardment of the omnipresent loudspeaker in e’ry housing block, factory and street corner. The barely imaginable callousness and sadism of professional interrogators and the barely imaginable pain they inflict upon those they pry confessions from. The grateful (and desperate) eating of things like flowers, cow’s blood, and the raw flesh of snared song birds. The ability to sacrifice human life—both one’s own and one’s loved ones—in circumstances most modern human beings find utterly mind-boggling to contemplate, if contemplated seriously at all. Soldering the Structure Throughout the vast latter portion of the book the narrative bounces back and forth between two basic periods not too distant from each other—one revealing some very major developments to come in the other. But there’s some doubt about the reliability of the narration that’s planted by the ingenious use of multiple POVs and contradictory accounts of the same incidents, namely that of The State via Loudspeaker Propaganda and those of individual citizens, those of which often lie to themselves and to one another, as is the natural outcome in an environment simmering with such potent levels of fear and paranoia. But even in knowing the tragic outcomes of various narrative strands I still found myself so enthralled, gripping my stupid-but-necessary Kindle with widened eyes, and under the spell of a totally bought-into hope ‘n’ desire for the Good Guys To Win, for Happy Resolutions to blossom at the tips of such storied trajectories. I rooted for our protagonists all the way, hope against hope. That’s the sign of a truly riveting book: one that can tell you rather explicitly that things won’t work out the way you want them to and yet there you are, hungrily flipping pages, hoping and wanting all the same. Capitalism v. Communism To not put too fine a point on it let me start with a blunt assertion: The problem is tyranny, the consolidation of too much power in too few hands, and a lack of blending the best of both socio-economic models that falls somewhere in the range of social democracies of the sort we see in large parts of Western Europe today. The US seems a good candidate for the poster boy for all that Capitalism does wrong: its excesses, its moral callousness, its severe intrusion into and subsequent sullying of the democratic process, and so forth. And North Korea is a perfect example of all that Communism does wrong: reducing the individual to total subservience to the State, stifling creativity and innovation in favor of narrow utility, the willingness to tyrannically punish and censor and limit people’s ability to criticize the State, and so forth. Both forces if not tempered by the good of their opposition, have the tendency to lead to dire consequences. As much as I detest North Korea, thinking deeply about it is a legitimate exercise of the noblest aspirations of Liberal Democracy and culturally sensitive philosophy. Of course, my final analysis remains more or less the same (which is that NK is a monstrous dictatorship that ideally would fall and be absorbed by the South) but in taking the time and effort to somewhat suspend judgment and vigorously question my presuppositions, I felt a renewed confidence in such assessments and a deeper appreciation for the (relatively flawed as they may be) positions I tend to take on, not only governmental and economic structures but on ethics itself. North Korea is fucked up. So is America. But they’re not equally fucked up, and in this stance I find something redeeming, something that is obvious at first glance to many already convinced of the goodness of certain ideologies, but something I now feel doubly confident in after having given myself over to the very real possibility that my blind spots are just as blind and convincing as those whom I witness as unfortunate victims of brutally degrading tyrannical states. Love and Transparency One of the great, enduring messages of the book is simply that love is being totally honest with another person. This trite truism could be easily cast aside by jaded, modern, 21st century sophisticates (ahem) but put into the context of a story where people are constantly getting their stories straight, being turned in to the secret police and sent off to labor camps by their own friends and family, in a constant game of concealing their true feelings and true identities, well, it becomes a magnificent thing to behold in such a place. Please read this book and find out for yourself exactly what I mean by all of this. I don't think you'll regret it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nataliya

    This is not an easy book to read. It preys on the minds of readers, on the fears and hopes that stem from our deeply ingrained cultural concepts, our habitual comfortable worldview. It takes you to the place where you can no longer be sure what is based in reality and what is the result of an absurdist deeply satirical interpretation of it. This is a book that's set in North Korea, and its protagonist is cleverly - perhaps overly so - named Jun Do (that is, 'John Doe', the North Korean everyman, This is not an easy book to read. It preys on the minds of readers, on the fears and hopes that stem from our deeply ingrained cultural concepts, our habitual comfortable worldview. It takes you to the place where you can no longer be sure what is based in reality and what is the result of an absurdist deeply satirical interpretation of it. This is a book that's set in North Korea, and its protagonist is cleverly - perhaps overly so - named Jun Do (that is, 'John Doe', the North Korean everyman, I guess). It spotlights the deeply disturbing aspects of the life in this isolated strange place - the propaganda, the police state, the prison camps, the torture-interrogations, the power of the state over individuals, the hunger, the poverty, the exploitation, the lies, the cruelty, the resignation of many to their fate, the mistrust, the crazed leaders, the corrupt almost surreal regime. "Where we are from, he said, stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change." There's scarcely a page that is not disturbing in one way or another to its intended Western(ized) reader. There are scenes that are so suddenly graphic and painful that they will forever be etched into my memory - like a tattoo, if you allow me to use that comparison. (A certain tattoo worn over a heart is quite important in this book, just so you know). And there is not a page that does not in one way or another condemn totalitarian propaganda-based way of running the lives of people and the horrific ways little people get run over by the relentless machine of the State. ------- But here's the thing that kept nagging at me in that little but persistent voice that was impossible to ignore. The main punch of this book is the setting - the very real country of North Korea, perhaps the most isolated place in the world, built around the idol-like worship of its leaders, shrouded in secrets that are impenetrable to the outsiders and likely to its own people. This is the society that the Western(ized) countries tend to view as one giant prison camp that exists in its own warped version of reality, a threatening surreal enigma to the outsiders. No wonder that a book about such a place, written by an outsider who has visited it once on a state-sanctioned tour and talked to select few who managed to escape, would have to heavily rely on speculations, assumptions, and rumors. The desire to give voice to the people of that country whose voices we likely will never hear has to be significantly helped just by imagination of the writer - that's a sad fact. And that's exactly where I came upon my stumbling block. What can Adam Johnson, an American, really know about the lives of North Koreans, other than imagine them as the embodiment of the Westerner's worst nightmares? How 'John Doe' can his Jun Do be to real North Koreans? I believe that Johnson managed to at least somewhat capture the oppressive spirit of the life in North Korea. But the truth is, the reality - no matter how terrifying, sad and atrocious it may be - remains inaccessible to us, and it's hard to write from the heart of something when you have no real knowledge of it. After all, the Soviets and the Westerners have written and imagined plenty of atrocities about each other, and yet none of them managed to actually capture the essence of the world so foreign to them. "Real stories like this, human ones, could get you sent to prison, and it didn’t matter what they were about. It didn’t matter if the story was about an old woman or a squid attack— if it diverted emotion from the Dear Leader, it was dangerous." I think I'd prefer it had this book been just a speculation only, perhaps a glimpse into a fictional dystopian society (like Orwell's 1984, for instance), and not presented as representing the life in a real country full of real people because then I'd be able to allow both my brain and my heart to run with the story, to fully feel the horror and hopelessness and desperation and outrage instead of always keeping myself in check by involuntary reminders that I will never know what is real and what is created to capitalize on our society's deep fears stemming from our culture's ingrained values. And when it comes to the lives of a whole real country, these uncertainties, these questions of what is real and what is there just to make me have a desired reaction suddenly become a real huge deal to me. “What happened?” Buc asked him. “I told her the truth about something,” Ga answered. “You’ve got to stop doing that,” Buc said. “It’s bad for people’s health.” If I let my apprehensions about this book slide, I can appreciate the story a bit more. It's definitely written well, with interesting and skillful alternations between narrators with their distinct voices, with gentle transition between the roles of Jun Do into which he's thrust by cruel fate, the willingness of the book to explore the disturbing sides of life. It manages to both keep you uneasy and yet willing to read to the end, even if you already have a good idea of what's to come. The language manages to walk the thin line between powerful and yet unobtrusive quite well. The parts that take place on the sea were my favorite, with the haunting melancholic quality that permeated the pages, with descriptions so vivid and memorable, with palpable sense of loneliness and quiet longing that is hard to forget. The weak point, however, were the characters themselves. They did feel like the vehicles to drive the plot forward, created to fulfill very specific roles and not extending much past their niche. The inclusion of the Great Leader himself felt purely commercial, as the strange figure of now dead North Korean leader is bound to elicit just the 'right' emotions from the reader. And Sun Moon, the actress who becomes a shining beacon in Jun Do's life, elicited little but irritation from me, her later reveals to Jun Do nonwithstanding. It's telling when you can really root for the characters to succeed in their daring mission because you really cannot bring yourself to care for those the mission is for. At the end, it's the spoiled and privileged who benefit - of course; but I somehow doubt that it was the intended message. ------- Would I recommend this book? It's hard to say. The Pulitzer people surely saw something really special in it, and they must know more about literature and literary merit than yours truly. I'd recommend it with a disclaimer - read it if you are not the type to be constantly preoccupied with doubts about the truths versus imagination in this story, read it if you can out these concerns temporarily aside and focus on the emotional punches of the story focusing on little people in the horrific totalitarian propaganda state. 3 stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    "The Orphan Master's Son Has No Clothes" -- I'd love to take credit for coming up with that beautifully stated, extremely accurate summing up of this awful, awful book, but I can't. I suppose, if nothing else, I can boast having married the man who did. I wasn't 30 pages into this farce (and I'm not speaking of the story stylings) when it became quite clear that all the praise being heaped upon this pile of literary poo (I am forever mindful that kids may be reading these reviews) was the work o "The Orphan Master's Son Has No Clothes" -- I'd love to take credit for coming up with that beautifully stated, extremely accurate summing up of this awful, awful book, but I can't. I suppose, if nothing else, I can boast having married the man who did. I wasn't 30 pages into this farce (and I'm not speaking of the story stylings) when it became quite clear that all the praise being heaped upon this pile of literary poo (I am forever mindful that kids may be reading these reviews) was the work of a Marketing Machine. All it takes is a few "rave reviews" from "objective", "critically acclaimed critics", and everyone is spewing the talking points that will make this waste of paper "one of the best books of 2012". And we know it's true because David Mitchell (Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell's son) called it an "addictive novel", and "an impressive book". There is no way he read the same book I just finished. Nearly 450 pages of incomprehensible, convoluted, drivel. Several of these "glowing" reviews talk about the book being good because "I knew so little about North Korea". Good for you for admitting that! An admission the author should likewise have made. There is no more insight into North Korea after you read this garbage than there is before you start. It's not even good fiction. Convoluted is not the same as clever. I could call this meandering, blathering gibberish "impressive", but I wouldn't be using that adjective to connote any positive admiration. I understand what the publishers did -- you option on a book that is heavy only in the weight of its pages, and you've got to try to sell it as spectacular because you can't very well admit to having knowingly bought something this horrific... I get it. I'm not mad. But, let's be serious. This was a really, really bad book. I can honestly say that I won't soon forget having wasted two weeks trying to gag my way through this unnecessarily pointless novel. And, now I suppose I can be quoted as having called "The Orphan Master's Son" 'unforgettable'...?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Literature is a fiction that tells a greater truth – so somebody wise once said. But the truth is a tricky business. This epic story set in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (that’s the bad one) offers frequent reminders of that fact. First, there’s the question of where the genuinely dire straits of North Koreans end and the semi-satirical abstractions begin. Did Johnson exaggerate the atrocities? Did his fiction indeed tell a greater truth? Then there’s a related question about Jun Do, Literature is a fiction that tells a greater truth – so somebody wise once said. But the truth is a tricky business. This epic story set in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (that’s the bad one) offers frequent reminders of that fact. First, there’s the question of where the genuinely dire straits of North Koreans end and the semi-satirical abstractions begin. Did Johnson exaggerate the atrocities? Did his fiction indeed tell a greater truth? Then there’s a related question about Jun Do, the book’s central figure. At some point he becomes the subject of the ultimate in unreliable narrators: the DPRK propaganda machine. Fortunately for the reader, the parts handled by the omniscient narrator dominated, and they made for quite a story! In various post-publication interviews Johnson said he conducted extensive research for the book (it took him 7 years) including talks with refugees and a visit to Pyongyang. He mentioned that, if anything, he had to tone down some of the brutality that he’d heard about from former prisoners. Jun Do, as the North Korean everyman, was unrealistically amalgamated, but this was an effective device. Making him a composite with a wide variety of experiences was a convenient way to drive the plot. The action begins at an orphanage where his father was the orphan master, but one who showed no favoritism to his son. Jun Do’s first official duty was as a soldier specializing in tunnel combat (taekwondo in the dark), then he was recruited to help kidnap Japanese civilians. After language school to learn English, he worked as a spy doing radio surveillance on a fishing boat. He gained national “hero” status sacrificing himself for the sake of a lie that kept the fishermen out of prison. This renown got him placed as one of the delegates for a state visit to Texas where cultures inevitably clashed, often humorously. (For instance, dogs in this strange land were somehow deemed to be venerable creatures.) Then, as the dark side of governmental caprice would have it, he ended up in prison doing hard labor. This was no picnic, unless you consider the protein-rich moths the cagiest survivors gathered when the lights went out to be nice alfresco fare. I don’t feel like I’m giving anything away outlining Jun Do’s experiences above. They were the basis for the first half of the book where he proxied for a molded North Korean identity. The second half of the book was structured quite differently. Jun Do assumed another role altogether as he replaced a high-ranking army official. To avoid spoilers, I’ll be vague. I will, however, mention that his assumed role included the name, the station, and the wife of the ex-commander, but not his demeanor. The second half also introduced two new narrators. One was an interrogator who was attempting to piece together the commander’s story. The other was the aforementioned propaganda machine, broadcasting throughout the land over loudspeakers. Officials told a very different story, as you might imagine. In their version of things -- a step well beyond the truthiness of Stephen Colbert -- Americans used their lights at night (which were virtuously precluded for the North Korean citizenry) to practice indolence and homosexuality, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il shot 11 holes in one in a single round (I remember when this story really was reported, which must have stretched credulity even there), and the spin put on our commander’s story would put any self-respecting gyroscope to shame. The book has been described variously as a thriller, a love story, a dystopian political satire and (by Johnson himself) a trauma narrative. It featured elements of each. Johnson not only conjoined these disparate styles, he told the bigger story with nuance and flair. Had he confused the old rule and made it “tell, don’t show,” his efforts would have fallen flat. Instead, the privation and torture are palpably clear, and the easy-to-draw inference resonates all the more. Johnson was clever in the way he humanized Jun Do at the same time that he obscured his identity. Making him a de facto orphan must have been a way to show the subjugation of family in favor of state. Even his name, which an American confused with John Doe, signifies the unidentified man. The reader knows different, though. We see the real man. We see how individual honesty can trump totalitarian lies for the sake of true love. I don’t view this as a perfect book. Certain aspects of the plot seemed implausible that didn’t need to be to tell the same story. Plus, even though I just praised Johnson for showing and not telling, there were times when I felt like Jun Do was a little too remote –- like a few more glimpses into his interior life would have helped me connect. Even so, this is damn near 5-star territory. Though the greater truths about North Korea –- its people and its rule –- may be approximate, they’re a whole lot more than I’d ever known before.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    Read it quick before North Korea decides you can't. If I wasn’t glad that Kim Jong Il is dead before reading this book, I certainly am now. Pak Jun Do never knew his mother and is raised in the orphanage his father runs. Because of this, he is constantly mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life. Eventually Jun Do winds up as one of the tunnel fighters who work in secret passages under the DMZ into South Korea, but he’s recruited to be part of a team that goes out in boats and snatches rando Read it quick before North Korea decides you can't. If I wasn’t glad that Kim Jong Il is dead before reading this book, I certainly am now. Pak Jun Do never knew his mother and is raised in the orphanage his father runs. Because of this, he is constantly mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life. Eventually Jun Do winds up as one of the tunnel fighters who work in secret passages under the DMZ into South Korea, but he’s recruited to be part of a team that goes out in boats and snatches random citizens from Japanese or South Korean beaches. From there he goes to being a radio operator on fishing boat where an elaborate lie the crew is forced to cook up to save their skins turns him into an unlikely national hero and gets put on a delegation going to Texas to visit an American senator. Eventually Jun Do’s fortunes take an odd turn that will eventually bring him face to face with the greatest actress in the world (According to North Korean propaganda.) Sun-moon, and The Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. Propaganda plays a big part in this story. That fits since this is a country where the leader supposedly shot the lowest round of golf in history the first time he played and where the citizens are expected to proclaim North Korea is the greatest nation on earth even as they’re starving to death or being sent to prison mines. One of the pieces I liked most was how much of the second half is told to us via third person narration and then we get the North Korean loud speaker version of what occurred. I also liked the character of Jun Do quite a bit. From the beginning, he’s a guy who finds himself constantly trying to survive by doing terrible things while saying that he has no choice, but he still finds himself sucked into more and more trouble. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy the developments with the actress Sun-moon or the wilder plot twists late in the book. Another character, an interrogation expert, gets involved, but his first person narration didn’t do much for me. I would have preferred more stuff with Kim Jong Il because those scenes were alternately hilarious and terrifying. There was a lot to like here, but in the end I felt it was too drawn out, and the author got too cute for his own good in places. And one part really bugged me. (view spoiler)[ The wife of the American senator who has shown incredible warmth and intelligence to Jun Do on his visit to Texas insists that he take one of her puppies back to North Korea. Why would any dog lover think that sending one to goddamn North Korea of all places is a good idea? (hide spoiler)] It’s one of those books that will make almost anyone appreciate what they have, though. Like now I’m grateful that I live far from any beaches or national borders so that I don’t have to worry about being snatched by one of those secret Canadian kidnapping teams.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son defies categories and captives the reader's attention end to end. We are brought face to face with the brutal inhumanity of the Kim Jong Il dictatorship (which the author visited and tried to depict as accurately as possible given the lack of defectors and their testimony). But the even deeper story was how much suffering and deprivation humans can endure while remaining human. For another interesting take on North Korea, I would highly recommend Guy Delisle Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son defies categories and captives the reader's attention end to end. We are brought face to face with the brutal inhumanity of the Kim Jong Il dictatorship (which the author visited and tried to depict as accurately as possible given the lack of defectors and their testimony). But the even deeper story was how much suffering and deprivation humans can endure while remaining human. For another interesting take on North Korea, I would highly recommend Guy Delisle's comic book Pyongyang. -POSSIBLE SPOILERS BELOW- I liked how in the first half we are with Pak Jun Do as he lives his life from the orphanage until his imprisonment because he participated in the mission to America and then we change to Commander Ga and it takes a while for us to see that we are still talking about the same person. I suppose that this is typical of life in that dictatorship where individualism is punished so the question of identity is likely a critical one for sanity in PDRK (sp?). I also loved the Sun Moon character and would have been heartbroken had she not left. Similarly, the Dark Rower, Wanda, Comrade Buc...the characters here did feel three-dimensional and fleshed out. The descriptions of torture were hard to bear but then no worse in the end than those described in A Brief History of Killings - just the difference of it being killing on the outside in James as opposed to killing on the inside in Johnson. Given the fascist/totalitarian tendencies of today's world, I would highly recommend this book to remind us why we - in western democracies at least - need to be conscious and proud of our freedoms of speech and movement and rights to individual expression and be committed to never let anyone impinge on them.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Miles

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I'll preface this review by saying that, in many ways, this is an excellent novel. It's intelligent, rich in symbolism and metaphor, and takes place in one of the most interesting contemporary settings an author could choose. It has many moments of terrific insight regarding one of the strangest and most tragic places on Earth. I can see why it's getting so much attention. All of that aside, this book did not work for me. It doesn't read like a book that was so good that they had to award it the I'll preface this review by saying that, in many ways, this is an excellent novel. It's intelligent, rich in symbolism and metaphor, and takes place in one of the most interesting contemporary settings an author could choose. It has many moments of terrific insight regarding one of the strangest and most tragic places on Earth. I can see why it's getting so much attention. All of that aside, this book did not work for me. It doesn't read like a book that was so good that they had to award it the Pulitzer––it reads like one written with the Pulitzer already in mind. The result, in my opinion, is a cluttered, overblown narrative that eventually eclipses the fascinating and tragic nature of life in contemporary North Korea. This book is genuinely tragic at times, but Johnson never skips an opportunity to remind the reader of that. He is constantly pointing out the sadness of things instead of allowing events to speak for themselves. On top of that, I didn't find the prose very inviting. Oftentimes I had to reread simple sentences because they didn't make sense to me the first time. I expect this to happen every so often, but it happened so regularly with this book that I began thinking it wasn't just me. In my case, the text simply wouldn't flow. I understand the idea of having a relatively anonymous protagonist, especially in an environment where the individual is denigrated in favor of the singular narrative of the state. Still, his lack of identity had me reaching for reasons to care about Jun Do, and I found myself caring even less when he morphed into Commander Ga. His relationship with Sun Moon was peppered with moments of sexy intrigue, but their dialogue was often stilted and lifeless. The relationship never came together for me; it felt photo-shopped into the narrative, especially after Johnson drew the clunky Casablanca connection. I'm willing to accept that perhaps some of this was intentional, but in that case I just don't think Johnson made very good choices about how to propel the story forward. In the end, my biggest complaint was that Johnson appeared to be so concerned with insisting on the profundity of his story that he lost sight of the story itself. The last half of the book, while containing flashes of metaphorical and thematic success, ultimately comes off as contrived. The big climax is more concerned with making a heroic statement about resistance in North Korea than with finding a conclusion for the characters that fits with the internal logic of their fucked-up culture. Ga's courageous defiance of Kim Jong Il feels unrealistic and silly. I'll concede that Commander Ga's final moments "on autopilot" are poignant and perfectly executed, but then why not end the book that way? The events at the airport seem too melodramatic, but they provide the kind of "climax" we all expect. This reveals Johnson as exactly what he is: an American ivy league writing professor who decided to insert his own story into a foreign culture. I've no doubt the author did his homework and possesses an impressive knowledge of the subject matter, but I was too busy trying to get past all the literary contrivances to notice. The whole experience left me feeling that a much shorter book with far less literary flair would have packed a greater emotional punch. I still want to learn more about North Korea, so I'm going to try Demick's "Nothing to Envy." Maybe it will be closer to what I'm looking for.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This is just flat-out brilliant. An amazing imaginative leap into an unknowable country, one that feels so granular, so meticulously envisioned, that it blew me away. There is both heft and humor here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    If Mike Reynolds hadn't raved about this book I probably wouldn't have read it. Here's his review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... I'm glad I read The Orphan Master's Son, however, so thanks, Mike. Why wouldn't I have read this novel without Mike's recommendation? Well, I'm leery of any book about another culture that hints of an uplifting, inspirational tale about overcoming obstacles or whatever. I hate that shit. It's not that I hate feeling uplifted but those stories, in my eyes, tend If Mike Reynolds hadn't raved about this book I probably wouldn't have read it. Here's his review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... I'm glad I read The Orphan Master's Son, however, so thanks, Mike. Why wouldn't I have read this novel without Mike's recommendation? Well, I'm leery of any book about another culture that hints of an uplifting, inspirational tale about overcoming obstacles or whatever. I hate that shit. It's not that I hate feeling uplifted but those stories, in my eyes, tend to minimize third world horrors and leave American whitey feeling good while sending the subtle message that poor people without food and medicine would be fine if they flew kites or won game shows or discovered love is the answer. In movies, by the way, this is called the Slumdog Millionaire effect. But The Orphan Master's Son emerges from a different species. Adam Johnson did crazy research and maintains an epic, jaw-dropping sense of small details. And while a reader could finish the novel and say, “Man, North Korea is a fucked up place”, this book is about more than North Korea's toxicity. It works as a suspense thriller where you want to skip to the end because you have to know what happens. The narrative blends time and characters across the landscape; you have to read closely to catch the nuances. And the themes of sacrifice and identity emerge in fascinating ways. Life is brief and barbaric for many in Johnson's North Korea; the effect is both numbing and overwhelming. And while Jun Do, the main character, has his noble elements, he's much more complex than any lead in a movie that's going to win a feel-good Oscar. Were I betting man (and seriously, I'm not, I hate casinos) I would put big money on The Orphan Master's Son taking home a briefcase full of literary awards. Can you bet on literary awards, by the way? Can you call a phone number and somewhere in a smoky bar a bookie picks up, and you say, “I want David Foster Wallace at 4 to 1 on the Nobel”? I have no idea. This novel subverted what I expected from narrative and character in the best way possible. How often do you get to say that? Check it out before all those annoying award stickers land on the front covers of new editions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a hideously beautiful, harrowing work of imagination. It's hard to tell which atrocities come from the mind of the writer and which are real. It illuminates a North Korea that seems all too real, while telling the story of a man whose feats of survival would turn him into a folk hero in any other context. This is an excellent book but not easy or light reading. ETA: I keep thinking about the fact that Jun Do chooses his own identity from the beginning. Is he ever told he's the orphan mas This is a hideously beautiful, harrowing work of imagination. It's hard to tell which atrocities come from the mind of the writer and which are real. It illuminates a North Korea that seems all too real, while telling the story of a man whose feats of survival would turn him into a folk hero in any other context. This is an excellent book but not easy or light reading. ETA: I keep thinking about the fact that Jun Do chooses his own identity from the beginning. Is he ever told he's the orphan master's son, or does he assume it because he gets the worst punishment? Which stories that he tells himself are true, and which are true enough to get him through the situation he faces? He plays many roles in this novel, some of which he chooses and some of which he is forced into. Through all of it, there is a theme of the stories people tell to get themselves through harsh realities. From early in the novel the protagonist is shown the machinery behind the magic. He harbors no illusions. That and his identity as the lowest of the low - an orphan, or a perceived orphan - allow him to what it takes to achieve his goals and maintain his own code of honor. In doing so, he attains mythic status himself. Only he and the reader are privy to the true story, and even that story is subject to question. This one's going to stick with me for a while.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    This very long, very dark, and highly imaginative work by Adam Johnson forces upon the reader a series of distasteful sensations, only a few of which are horror, fury, hatred, injustice, and revenge. But by the end, one also experiences hope, compassion, sincerity, integrity, and love. Thoughts surface, submerge, roil in the mind during the days spent reading this huge novel, leaving one as drained and unsettled after a session with it as if one had “eaten bitterness.” Welcome to North Korea. If This very long, very dark, and highly imaginative work by Adam Johnson forces upon the reader a series of distasteful sensations, only a few of which are horror, fury, hatred, injustice, and revenge. But by the end, one also experiences hope, compassion, sincerity, integrity, and love. Thoughts surface, submerge, roil in the mind during the days spent reading this huge novel, leaving one as drained and unsettled after a session with it as if one had “eaten bitterness.” Welcome to North Korea. If you’ve ever wondered, this is one man’s take. Much has been written of Johnson’s seven years constructing this story. He had done research, and in several interviews pointed to memoirs of escapees, like The Aquariums of Pyongyang, and one recently published by Penguin, called Escape from Camp 14. Johnson undoubtedly used news reports to reimagine the visits of western envoys as part of his story, but the blackness central to the society was difficult for me to believe. However, in one interview published in the Paris Review, Johnson denies he showed us the real blackness: “…I had to leave much of the darkness out of my book. The real darkness of the gulag there was so bleak that I had to cut it out. You couldn’t read it.” It is just as well, then, for this book was quite black enough to leave one feeling untethered. The novel is broken into two parts. The first half tells of a young man growing up and finding his way in a society that seems confusing and dangerous: innocuous behaviors have consequences that are out of proportion to their intent. It is difficult to read this half of the novel. I am not enamored of character-as-victim when the consequences are so dire. Relief comes immediately in the second half of the book, when we perceive a shift in the balance of power, from state authority to the citizenry. The young man of Part I, Jun Do (perhaps “John Doe”), decides he will write his own obituary and becomes an actor rather than merely acted upon. We are told of this change in the power ratio in an ingenious series of flashbacks as he is being interrogated over a period of time. The interrogator is the voice in this section of the novel, and we see the power of Jun Do’s non-confession on his listeners. I think, perhaps, only an American could have written this book. A novel of the same subject written by a European may be more philosophical, literary, and well…sad. This is literature, but it is brash, brazen, curious, and a little like America’s pop culture: the hero molds his own story and puts it right out there for everyone’s delectation. He doesn’t lie, but he spins the truth, and keeps on spinning to the end. The story is also a remake of that American classic film, Casablanca, in which the hero with a great love for a dame allows her to escape to freedom while he deals with the demons that would hold her captive. I am not going to deny the first part of this book was difficult and agonizing for me to read, but I urge readers not to forsake the book before you reach the middle if you are at all interested in the subject. In Part Two we finally see a man rather than a victim and the character of the book changes completely after this break. It is fiction in the form of a prison diary. If you’ve ever read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, or Elie Wiesel’s Night, you will remember how riveting books of desperation and depravation can be. And yes, I did order Escape from Camp 14 to read after this. I want to see how much parallels what Johnson created, and because one’s palate for ordinary fiction is rather spoiled after such a book as this. Sometimes great literature demands more of us. While I am not ready to place this in the “greats” file yet, it is big, brave, unblinking. Johnson has a unique voice that cannot be mistaken for another. He brings to us news of the condition of people in North Korea, an issue we need to examine.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Ashleigh

    At a certain point I almost put this book down because I thought the only character I cared about was gone. But I was immersed and impressed a few pages later when that character was reintroduced under new circumstances. This book is a real-life 1984, interspersed with facts about North Korea. Even though many scenarios were far fetched, this work of fiction was engaging and gave me a newfound interest in North Korea; I have already bought another book about the DPRK. One of my favorite moments At a certain point I almost put this book down because I thought the only character I cared about was gone. But I was immersed and impressed a few pages later when that character was reintroduced under new circumstances. This book is a real-life 1984, interspersed with facts about North Korea. Even though many scenarios were far fetched, this work of fiction was engaging and gave me a newfound interest in North Korea; I have already bought another book about the DPRK. One of my favorite moments was when a North Korean man told an American that the dear leader had said, “Ask not what North Korea can do for you ask what you can do for North Korea.” The American replied with, “Isn't he the same leader who said that it is a shame his citizens have only one life to lose for their country.”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    I have to be honest, I found this one a bit of a struggle, and I expected more from a Pulitzer prize winner. Johnson's ambition in setting his novel in the closed and surreal world of North Korea is clear. For me this never quite succeeded in being more than a series of set pieces based on the snippets of truth that have emerged, acted out by ciphers who never quite become convincing characters. This may partially be excused as a reflection of the impossibility of maintaining humanity in such a I have to be honest, I found this one a bit of a struggle, and I expected more from a Pulitzer prize winner. Johnson's ambition in setting his novel in the closed and surreal world of North Korea is clear. For me this never quite succeeded in being more than a series of set pieces based on the snippets of truth that have emerged, acted out by ciphers who never quite become convincing characters. This may partially be excused as a reflection of the impossibility of maintaining humanity in such a place. The political message seems simplistic and heavy handed. Some of the writing is good, and some of the set piece scenes are quite funny, but overall it is too much of a grim catalogue of inhumanity to be an enjoyable read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I don't understand the accolades this book has been getting. I did read it during a week of awful flu, and the slowness of getting into it may have been partly attributable to that. It's certainly clever, and Johnson is nothing if not inventive. But I couldn't get past the use of North Korea as a setting, which seemed like a meretricious trick to me. There's certainly a lot of superficial North Korean trappings, loudspeakers, prison mines, references to starvation, and the theater of Kim Jong I I don't understand the accolades this book has been getting. I did read it during a week of awful flu, and the slowness of getting into it may have been partly attributable to that. It's certainly clever, and Johnson is nothing if not inventive. But I couldn't get past the use of North Korea as a setting, which seemed like a meretricious trick to me. There's certainly a lot of superficial North Korean trappings, loudspeakers, prison mines, references to starvation, and the theater of Kim Jong Il, and his personality cult, provide part of the engine of the plot. But there's no attempt to understand what any of that could mean to real people or real characters -- it's just the setting for a rowdy picaresque adventure that goes on a bit too long and is rather too wordy (Johnson's descriptions of nature are particularly painful), and the place where Johnson works out a bunch of sort of shopworn ideas about identity, loyalty and deception that are not as interesting as he thinks they are, and that all take place in the head -- there are almost no emotions in this book. It sort of distresses me to read that this is "satire" -- it's ridiculous and over the top, with its secret plane landings on Texas ranches for taco parties -- but doesn't satire require that the thing being held up to ridicule isn't already inherently absurd? I don't really understand the purpose of satirizing North Korea -- it's not as if they'll read this book and say, "oh, how insightful." And I am somewhat saddened that people feel that they are learning about North Korea from this jumble of scraps of information and salacious details. I wish people would read Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Lives of Ordinary People in North Korea -- the powerful non-fiction depictions of utter deprivation, totalizing social control and the struggle to survive make Orphan Master's dramatic plot twists look cheap and flimsy. Oh well, I know I'm way in the minority on this one!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    There are many books I've loved, many writers I've admired, some whose talent has been awe-inspiring. But it's not often that I read a novel wondering “how the hell did he/she do that?” This is one of those times. How did Adam Johnson imagine his way into the dystopia of Kim Jong-Il's North Korea and create a world so real to the reader that when Americans show up, they seem oddly alien? The book is darkly comic and desperately sad, always teetering on the brink of complete absurdity but true in There are many books I've loved, many writers I've admired, some whose talent has been awe-inspiring. But it's not often that I read a novel wondering “how the hell did he/she do that?” This is one of those times. How did Adam Johnson imagine his way into the dystopia of Kim Jong-Il's North Korea and create a world so real to the reader that when Americans show up, they seem oddly alien? The book is darkly comic and desperately sad, always teetering on the brink of complete absurdity but true in its heartbreaking depiction of people just trying to survive the stories of their lives that the state has determined for them. “Where we are from . . . stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.” In the first part of the book, the protagonist, Pak Jun Do, is plucked from the orphanage run by his father and becomes a fighter in the tunnels under the demilitarized zone, then a kidnapper, a spy at sea intercepting radio transmissions, and, when a mission to Texas goes hilariously wrong, a prisoner in a mining camp. In part two, the picaresque gives way to intrigue and romance among the upper echelons and the Dear Leader himself as Jun Do evolves from a tool of the state to a man determined to fashion his own story. This is a remarkable accomplishment, at once compellingly readable and scarily disorienting. It is every bit as good as you've heard.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “In my experience, ghosts are made up only of the living, people you know are out there but are forever out of range” ― Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son One of my favorite novels of the year, and definitely my favorite novel set primarily in North Korea (I've read four others, or five). This is one of those contemporary novels like The Son by Meyer or Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, or Udall's The Lonely Polygamist that delivers almost everything I search for in a book: originality, “In my experience, ghosts are made up only of the living, people you know are out there but are forever out of range” ― Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son One of my favorite novels of the year, and definitely my favorite novel set primarily in North Korea (I've read four others, or five). This is one of those contemporary novels like The Son by Meyer or Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, or Udall's The Lonely Polygamist that delivers almost everything I search for in a book: originality, amazing prose, fantastic characters, meaning. These novels might not be 'War and Peace' or 'Moby-Dick' but they definitely show that fiction isn't even close to being dead. Johnson is able to examine such themes as propaganda, stories, the concept of self and identity, totalitarianism love, memory, etc., in a novel way. This book deserves a spot among the other great totalitarian prison books (Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon', Orwell's 1984. Even though only a part of this novel is actually set in a prison, I'd argue that all totalitarian literature is at heart a sub-genre of prison literature.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    The book is undoubtedly written by a master word smith. It is a tour de force through a dark plot and story line. The author spent several years researching the book, including visiting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). I find the word 'democratic extremely out of place and ironic here, as most other people would do, but won't indulge in any comment about it. Looking in from the outside with no knowledge of a people and a country, might not be the right place or time to co The book is undoubtedly written by a master word smith. It is a tour de force through a dark plot and story line. The author spent several years researching the book, including visiting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). I find the word 'democratic extremely out of place and ironic here, as most other people would do, but won't indulge in any comment about it. Looking in from the outside with no knowledge of a people and a country, might not be the right place or time to comment on a system as such. It is acknowledged outside its borders as a totalitarian regime though. The journalistic approach of the author to highlight the torture in the book, also leaves me with a lack of emotional bonding with the story or the characters. The cold, harsh, uncompromising feel of the people, being treated like animals - easy to get rid of instantly, disposable assets, or liabilities of the country, left me with a feeling of sterile apathy. It should have been different, I am sure. Perhaps it is understandable that objectivity can be pushed too far, particularly in this situation where the author is a foreigner to the country. Play it safe. He did, yes. Too safe, perhaps? Yet, different stories are presented on different levels by different narrators, including the possibility of love in a world devoid of feeling and individualism. John Doe, in the western lexicon a no-man, became Jun Do in the story about a child who grew up in an orphanage as the son of the orphan master. He wasn't an orphan himself, but grew up and identified with the orphans in the social milieu he was forced to endure, namely to be raised by the state and then ultimately become a victim of the system. The children were shipped off everywhere to do manual labor, wherever they were needed. Thus, Jun Do became a tunnel assassin, a kidnapper, spy, English translator, a hero, a traveler to Texas, an impostor, and ultimately a prison inmate. Not that it was the end of the story as yet! The narrative celebrates the horror of torture chambers, unimaginable hunger, robotic lifestyles of people afraid of the system and the consequences of wrong thoughts, words or acts. Grim in all its splendor. Yet, the people also planted flowers to put on the graves of the heroes in the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery. Nocturnal raids ensures a good meal for more desperate people when the blooms become a source of valuable food for some.:"Part Two: The Confessions of Commander Ga "…Always they are stealing flowers,” Sun Moon remarked as they passed by. “It sickens me. My great-uncle is in there, you know. Do you know what that says to our ancestors, how it must insult them?” Ga asked her, “Why do you think they steal the flowers?” “Yes, that’s the question, isn’t it? Who would do that? What’s happening to our country?” He stole a brief glance, to confirm her disbelief. Had she never been hungry enough to eat a flower? Did she not know that you could eat daisies, daylilies, pansies, and marigolds? That hungry enough, a person could consume the bright faces of violas, even the stems of dandelions and the bitter hips of roses?" The narrative promises a good ending as though the reader needs to stick to the story and not leave after the first half was concluded. There must have been more readers such as yours truly, who wanted to turn my back on it and just walk away. Where was it heading? Was the book a pro-American propaganda tool, forcing the reader to accept a particular viewpoint despite the effort to remain calculatingly objective? "And of Commander Ga? However lacking, however feeble you have judged his character, know that this is a story of growth and redemption, one in which enlightenment is gained by the lowliest of figures. Let this story be an inspiration when dealing with the weak-minded who share your communal housing blocks and the selfish who use all the soap in your group bathing wells. Know that change is achievable and that happy endings do come, for this story promises to have the happiest ending you will ever hear." Despite the fact that I found the characters distant and unlovable with no emotional bartering possible between me and them, the book is informative and entertaining. It is extremely well-written and captivating. I am thinking about the collective story of a country being dictated and written by a totalitarian despot(the Kim regime in the state-controlled media outlets) and how the character of Jun Do, created by the author, can perhaps be the collective persona of a nation. It is impossible to emotionally bond with an entire country, but giving the people a collective personality and calling 'them' Jun Do, actually worked very well, if it WAS planned this way. The author did not overstep his own boundaries by trying to represent people he does not know or haven't met. He tells the story of people who dare not talk for themselves and respectfully maintains his distance without standing too far removed from the situation. It is an excellent rendition of documentary realism. As a novel it was a good read. The characters became people in the end. There's a little bit of American dramatization in the final moments, with an ending leaving the reader sad but happy. However, I almost stopped reading after the first part, due to the excessive torture and neurotic, depressing tale. Alas, another ending would have left me with buyers remorse. I'm glad it did not happen! But yes, this book is worth a try.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    Don't Give Up, You're Not Beaten Yet After buying this book, I read 75 pages and gave up, thinking it was too dark and foreign for me to like. Some time after the novel won the Pulitzer Price in Fiction for 2013, I decided to start over and nearly gave up again around the same point, but decided to keep reading to page 100. Somewhere around page 85, I was intrigued, and by page 100, I could not put the book down. Now, I cannot laud The Orphan Master's Son highly enough to do it justice. Its excell Don't Give Up, You're Not Beaten Yet After buying this book, I read 75 pages and gave up, thinking it was too dark and foreign for me to like. Some time after the novel won the Pulitzer Price in Fiction for 2013, I decided to start over and nearly gave up again around the same point, but decided to keep reading to page 100. Somewhere around page 85, I was intrigued, and by page 100, I could not put the book down. Now, I cannot laud The Orphan Master's Son highly enough to do it justice. Its excellent development of characters and subtext perfectly place the reader in another world, within a fantastic story that seemed so real. The seemingly authentic representation of North Korean life and the dictatorship made the book all the more profound and effective. Prior to reading it for example, I'd read news that Kim Jong Un had 9 orchestra members executed to squash rumors that his wife, a singer, was "friendly" prior to marrying him. A quote I found particularly profound relating to life in North Korea:“I wonder of what you must daily endure in America, having no government to protect you, no one to tell you what to do. Is it true you're given no ration card, that you must find food for yourself? Is it true that you labor for no higher purpose than paper money? What is California, this place you come from? I have never seen a picture. What plays over the American loudspeakers, when is your curfew, what is taught at your child-rearing collectives? Where does a woman go with her children on Sunday afternoons, and if a woman loses her husband, how does she know the government will assign her a good replacement? With whom would she curry favor to ensure her children got the best Youth Troop leader?” This novel has it all--adventure, suspense, a great literary structure and even some romance:“They’re [poems] 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 afterward he might lose her, for she is the flower of his heart and nothing will keep him from her.” I loved this novel, which I consider the best I've read this decade. Perseverance pays.

  20. 4 out of 5

    LeAnne

    UPDATE... On sale for $1.99 today! This tale has a pervasively ominous tone and doesn't have a story book ending. If you're a casual reader who's in it just for enjoyment, skip it - unless you find the whole idea of what goes on in North Korea rather fascinating. This is fictional, but the details are based on real accounts from survivors and escapees. Blew my doors off. --------------- This novel was mesmerizing to me, like a nightmare that is so bizarre that, despite its ugliness, you don't wan UPDATE... On sale for $1.99 today! This tale has a pervasively ominous tone and doesn't have a story book ending. If you're a casual reader who's in it just for enjoyment, skip it - unless you find the whole idea of what goes on in North Korea rather fascinating. This is fictional, but the details are based on real accounts from survivors and escapees. Blew my doors off. --------------- This novel was mesmerizing to me, like a nightmare that is so bizarre that, despite its ugliness, you don't want to wake up from for fear of missing how it will end. As dark and surreal as North Korea itself, this fascinating, compelling, 5 star read is not for wussies. The dreamlike story centers around a young man who was reared in an orphanage but who prided himself upon the fact that he was not, in fact, without parents. His father was in charge of the unit - he was the Orphan Master. His mother was one of the women "taken" by the Great Leader years prior, but he accepts this with no qualms. Nobody is allowed qualms here. If you've read at all about the reign of Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung before him, you may recall that exceptionally beautiful and talented people from other areas of Asia were occasionally snatched by the North Korean government. Caught like beautiful canaries, film makers and opera singers truly were kept captive there. As our hero Jun Do (get it, JOHN DOE?) finds his way in the world - or rather, is assigned to his way in the world - we see him move from the armed services where he is valued for his taekwondo skills and then onto a boat off the coast to act as a signal operator. As his responsibilities change, we are privy to inside views of the military that seem too bizarre to be a straight-up work of fiction...the reader might think that maybe a touch of magical realism is weaved in to the tale, but then again, perhaps not. The true testimonies of survivors of the DPRK are so bizarre in themselves that in certain sections, it is nearly impossible to disentangle reality from Johnson's imagination. About midway through the story, there is a darkly comic diplomatic trip taken by representatives of Kim Jong Il (which includes Jun Do) to a ranch in the US. When this trip does not go as planned, our guy ends up in prison...and wow! What we see here through his eyes! Johnson did extensive research with those who escaped, defected, and lived to tell the tale, so the torture he writes may or may not be a dark confection he has whipped up. What follows after is even more bizarre. Jun Do is assigned a new identity. While you or I may find this piece too absurd to roll with (I initially did), it rolls over the reader like CRAZY magical realism that some audiences are fine with. I came to realize...this kind of stuff happens over there! Consider, Kim Jong-Un had his big brother assassinated by two random chicks, one in an LOL t-shirt, and both using poison goo. Does that not sound like ridiculous fiction? And that’s the fantastical stuff we *know* of - survivors tell us way weirder stories. So to the critical point where author Johnson COULD have alienated me. A parallel? SEMI SPOILER: Let's say that President Obama strongly disapproved of Hilary Clinton's performance on something, and I happened to be some low level government employee he'd noticed. Within a day, I would have been moved into her home, expected to eat breakfast with Bill, and Chelsea would be calling me Mom. Every single person in the country - obviously knowing that I'm not Hilary Clinton - would address me as if I were her. Honey, if the Great Leader comments on the violet hue of an orange, by golly, you'd better start praising the purple color of citrus. END SEMI SPOILER “Where we are from, stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.” The new identity involves darkly farcical actions, but within them, Jun Do finally finds love. Although he has delivered his own share of brutality to others, he risks himself to give that love a small chance at freedom. Oh, that the people of North Korea could see love fly free. Phenomenal book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Just starting this--so far it's absolutely ripping. Saw Johnson on a panel, talking about 9/11, Ten Years After, with Steve Erickson and Dana Goodyear and LA Times book critic David Ulin--and he held his own with that stellar company, and then some. Funny, when I saw him before the panel, I didn't know who he was, thought he was somebody's friend, maybe a bouncer at some kind of rough nightspot or someone who worked with prison youth-- until he sat down at the table, and started talking. Jaw-dro Just starting this--so far it's absolutely ripping. Saw Johnson on a panel, talking about 9/11, Ten Years After, with Steve Erickson and Dana Goodyear and LA Times book critic David Ulin--and he held his own with that stellar company, and then some. Funny, when I saw him before the panel, I didn't know who he was, thought he was somebody's friend, maybe a bouncer at some kind of rough nightspot or someone who worked with prison youth-- until he sat down at the table, and started talking. Jaw-dropping genius. I've been watching for this book like a cat watching a mousehole. ***************** Halfway through. Tremendous powers of envisioning lives so far from our own--the victims, residents and participants in the totalitarian North Korean state, where no one is free from compliance and authentic human experience can take place only at the margins, in the cracks, out of the corner of the eye, and never flourishes. Absurdist, or realist? In the case of North Korea, the reality itself is absurd. ***************** What a toughminded imagining--you literally fight your way through this book, like hand to hand combat with the forces which separate the truth from 'the story'... where the biography is kept and the person discarded, where the story is what matters, the story that's being told that day, where memory is liability, and love a wound. Holy mackerel, what a book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    It is just possible that I've found the novel that come next December I'll be listing as my favorite book of the year. Go ahead -- scoff or do the eyeroll if you so choose, but this book has just set the bar for my reading year. With this novel, the prose, the characters, the story and the author's imagining of life under totalitarian rule in North Korea all combine to produce the literary equivalent of the perfect storm in my reading universe. While getting my thoughts together and perusing the It is just possible that I've found the novel that come next December I'll be listing as my favorite book of the year. Go ahead -- scoff or do the eyeroll if you so choose, but this book has just set the bar for my reading year. With this novel, the prose, the characters, the story and the author's imagining of life under totalitarian rule in North Korea all combine to produce the literary equivalent of the perfect storm in my reading universe. While getting my thoughts together and perusing the internet, I discovered an interview where the author notes that "... in North Korea there is a national script, conveyed through propaganda. There is one notion about who the people are and what the national goals are, and you as a citizen are conscripted to be a part of this national narrative. . . You have to relinquish your own personal desires.” And the main character in this story, Pak Jun Do, has spent a great deal of his young life following the script. His early life and career are laid out in the first part of this novel, "The Biography of Jun Do," which even by itself would have made an incredible story. His father is in charge of the orphan camp called Long Tomorrows near Chongjin, where Jun Do grows up without a mother. Orphans are very low in the social order, and are hired out to various companies or other work details; when they get older they are sent directly to the military, where they are usually assigned the most dangerous jobs. Jun Do, although not technically an orphan, ends up as a tunnel soldier, then ends up on assignment kidnapping people from Japan. From there, he is assigned to language school, then to a listening post on the fishing boat Junma, where he monitors radio transmissions. After an encounter with an American interceptor at sea and later a defection, he is proclaimed a hero and recruited for a secret mission to Texas. It is there, looking through of all things a telephone directory, that he comes to realize that there's a bigger and better world out there, and that he hates his "small, backward homeland, a land of mysteries and ghosts and mistaken identities." His return to North Korea leads directly to part two of the novel, "The Confessions of Commander Ga," where in a rather abrupt change, we find Jun Do in a prison mine where one of the outputs is the blood of the dead that is shipped to the capital, Pyongyang. From there Jun Do's life takes on a new twist, one I won't reveal here, but it is a story guaranteed to keep you awake and turning pages because you do not want to miss even a second of Jun Do's story. The strongest parts of the novel are found in how different people retain their dignity and integrity after enduring incredible hardships, and in what really constitutes a hero, a word that is bandied about at the upper echelons in keeping with the national myth. North Korea is a place where above all the myths behind the cult of personality endure, no matter what methods are used to ensure its survival -- "re-education," fear, torture, etc. While the author shows that not everyone buys into it, there is also propaganda everywhere, made very clear by the loudspeakers in everyone's living room, factory floors, offices, etc. Announcements beginning with "Citizens" are a device the author uses often throughout the novel, often related in a tongue-in-cheek manner, used to broadcast not only the latest good deed done by the Dear Leader -- "Kim Jong Il was seen offering on-the-spot guidance to the engineers deeping the Taedong River channel," but also the myth: "While the Dear Leader lectured to the dredge operators, many doves were seen to spontaneously flock above him, hovering to provide our Reverend General some much needed shade on a hot day." The Orphan Master's Son is a wonderful novel for several reasons, and I've just skimmed the surface of the story here. I had only a small problem in terms of reading, and that was with the juxtaposition from part one to part two, where I read a few pages, scratched my head and had to go back again to make sure what I'd read was correct. Once I figured out what was happening and continued reading, all was explained and back into smooth reading zone I went. It's very obvious that the author has done his research, even traveling to North Korea. At one point I looked up kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Koreans and was amazed to discover that this practice has been going on for some time. Furthermore, the propaganda and mythmaking around Kim Jong-il so beautifully incorporated into The Orphan Master's Son is now being ramped up in real life for the new leader Kim Jong-un, as shown in this article. Very highly recommended, although his book may not be for everyone -- many readers might find the story too dark or bleak to get through, so if you're looking for a lighthearted read, forget it. It is gritty and often difficult to get through, with scenes of torture and prison life, starvation, famine and other hardships endured by regular people in a situation in which they have little or no control. And although this book is very approachable from a reader standpoint, some may be bothered by the change in narrative form from part one to part two, which admittedly is a bit confusing at first. On the other hand, it is a book in which the author's imagination regarding this closed society comes to life and translates into a credible look at a place most people know only through news reports. I can't say exactly why I loved this book, but it is one that made its way under my skin and one I will not soon forget. Bravo, Adam Johnson!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diane Yannick

    I was obsessed with getting to the end of this book quickly. It wasn't because I loved reading it but because I was so sick of feeling like I was entrapped in a demented world. This story imposed scenes onto my brain that reappeared in dreams. Only great books have this power. The author opened my eyes to North Korean culture through a fictional narrative based on factual research. Throughout the story a loudspeaker was used to disseminate propaganda throughout Korean homes. Kim Jong-il, the rec I was obsessed with getting to the end of this book quickly. It wasn't because I loved reading it but because I was so sick of feeling like I was entrapped in a demented world. This story imposed scenes onto my brain that reappeared in dreams. Only great books have this power. The author opened my eyes to North Korean culture through a fictional narrative based on factual research. Throughout the story a loudspeaker was used to disseminate propaganda throughout Korean homes. Kim Jong-il, the recent bully leader, had no qualms about torturing his citizenry at his iron whim. While his people starved, he pumped money into nuclear programs. He taught selected people to be unemotional assassins. He had lobotomies performed using nails that punctured the eyeball to access the brain. This quote kind of summed it up for me: "Stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change." There were times when the story was full of ironic humor, especially some of the North Korean reactions to American culture during a trip to Texas. There were times when I was rooting for love to survive in the midst of insanity. There were times when I was totally lost with the narration changes. (In all honesty, many times.)There was rampant symbolism that whizzed right over my head. BUT, Adam Johnson can write. He creates a world and then sucks you into it. He turned phrases that made me look away from the page in awe. I did think that the story meandered a little too much at times. I think it could have been condensed without losing its punch. One of my pet peeves is reviewers who don't like books because they're depressing. They don't recommend books that make readers uncomfortable. For me, some of the best books make you the most uncomfortable. This is not a traditional book but rather a gritty tale that you will either love or hate.

  24. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    That helpful widget tells me that I've read 27%. I think I've given Mr Johnson a fair chance so I have no compunction in bailing out of this one. I'm old enough to be conscious of my own mortality. The unread books I already own could probably keep me going until the Grim Reaper passes this way (which doesn't prevent me from adding to them, you know, he may not come for a while, I've certainly not invited him, and nor would I welcome him). Nearly 600 pages is a commitment I'll make if I feel it' That helpful widget tells me that I've read 27%. I think I've given Mr Johnson a fair chance so I have no compunction in bailing out of this one. I'm old enough to be conscious of my own mortality. The unread books I already own could probably keep me going until the Grim Reaper passes this way (which doesn't prevent me from adding to them, you know, he may not come for a while, I've certainly not invited him, and nor would I welcome him). Nearly 600 pages is a commitment I'll make if I feel it's worth it, but here, no, no, no thank you. An impulse buy at Trafalgar Square Waterstone's, influenced by the Pulitzer label. Which made me wonder, so I checked. What are the criteria for a Pulitzer prize-winning novel? According to http://www.pulitzer.org/administration the prize is awarded "For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life." Hmm. Distinguished. Well, I have no idea how this novel distinguishes itself. Not by its poetry, the prose is let us say straightforward. Not by its innovative or original narrative technique, we have an old-fashioned linear story told by an omniscient third person narrator, a rather obvious Bildungsroman. Not by its subtle and engaging characterisation, as I say I'm bailing out and leaving Jun Do to his fate, I DON'T CARE. Oh, lots of stuff happens. Most of it shitty. And I think I can see where we are going here. Communism - BAD. Western liberal Democracy - GOOD. Since Communism died a natural death in Europe, and Fukuyama proclaimed the End of History, I'd have thought this was a message that we don't really need any more. I can't be arsed with it anyway.

  25. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    Adam Johnson writes with authority about the essentially unknown North Korean culture and civilization. Kim Jong Il's force-fed propaganda controls the people so consummately that their identities are squeezed from their minds and replaced with a state-sponsored life and perspective. The life of a North Korean is not the pursuit of happiness or self-actualization. It is solely to survive, like an insect or a rodent. To live, you must become a shell, an unquestionably loyal nationalist. What Johns Adam Johnson writes with authority about the essentially unknown North Korean culture and civilization. Kim Jong Il's force-fed propaganda controls the people so consummately that their identities are squeezed from their minds and replaced with a state-sponsored life and perspective. The life of a North Korean is not the pursuit of happiness or self-actualization. It is solely to survive, like an insect or a rodent. To live, you must become a shell, an unquestionably loyal nationalist. What Johnson realizes so well in his debut novel are the conflicts, confrontations, and abysses between the self that has been annihilated and the social structure that replaces the self. Every word you utter is weighed, and could be twisted as subversive. You are subjected to daily propaganda reports through loudspeakers connected to your house. People are traumatized from the cradle to the grave, and your individual thoughts are a threat to your security and safety. You are raised to be a complete subject of the state, and to wear the skin of trauma that is inflicted daily. Jun Do is a survivor of famine and abandonment. His father ran an orphanage, and Jun Do was expected to impersonate an orphan from an early age. His strength, talents, and stamina lead him along an epic path. From his high seas and espionage adventures on a fishing vessel, where he develops his first chosen father-son emotional relationship, to the deprivations and torture of the prison mines, to the corrupt corridors of power, where his skill of impersonation becomes his sword and precarious shield, Jun Do's life literally morphs into a fabled one. He learns to act alone, and yet to connect with the hearts of others. "Today, tomorrow...A day is nothing. A day is just a match you strike after the ten thousand matches before it have gone out," says the tragic, beautifully wounded actress, Sun Moon, who has made persona an art, and who once captured the hearts of all the citizens, including her husband, Commander Ga. Jun Do's transformations, internal and external, bring him squarely into the receptacles of Commander Ga, Sun Moon, and the "Dear Leader" himself. This postmodern novel is told via stunning juxtapositions, between the controllers and subjects of a treacherous society and the inner will of the individual. The historical context is authentic, complex, layered, and detailed. Chapters alternate between Jun Do and a nameless interrogator, which progress to an operatic denouement. This isn't the kind of novel that grabs you immediately; there are many ambiguities and inchoate events that build gradually, stone by stone, erecting an explosive story that tunnels through the doom of a raw reality, to a bloodletting dystopian myth, and into the chambers of a sequestered heart.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ace

    I waited a long time to read this book, I saved it for a rainy day and I was both excited and apprehensive at the same time about how I would feel reading it. I loved it, Adam Johnston writes exceptionally well and I can see why he is highly regarded and respected. Many have written about the horror’s described in this book but it’s so strangely compelling and what drew me inside this story was more so the subtle humour and absurdity of the scenes he describes and of course, the flawlessly paint I waited a long time to read this book, I saved it for a rainy day and I was both excited and apprehensive at the same time about how I would feel reading it. I loved it, Adam Johnston writes exceptionally well and I can see why he is highly regarded and respected. Many have written about the horror’s described in this book but it’s so strangely compelling and what drew me inside this story was more so the subtle humour and absurdity of the scenes he describes and of course, the flawlessly painted characters. I didn’t get wrapped up in believing that this was a work of ‘non-fiction’ and to be honest some of the circumstances described here of the poverty stricken, orphan or homeless and the corruption is not specific to North Korea, in fact, it’s all over the world. I take my hat off to an author who is not afraid to put pen to paper and build such a huge story around such atrocities, I for one am even too afraid here to use the Dear Leaders name! It’s not a book for everyone, it’s complex in it’s jumping around in timelines and I wish I had had the opportunity to read it in one sitting as I think the impact would have been greater. 5 stars in any case.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Dieser 2013 mit dem Pulitzer Preis ausgezeichnete Roman ist bedauerlicherweise bisher völlig an mir vorbeigegangen. Dann entdeckte er mich kürzlich zufällig auf dem Weg zu einer Aussichtsplattform, ich stolperte quasi über ihn. Am Tag der Annäherung von Nord- und Südkorea beschloss ich nun, dass es Zeit ist, mich mit diesem Werk zu beschäftigen. Wahnsinn! Ich fasse noch immer nicht, was mir bisher entgangen ist, da bin ich doch glatt unvermutet über eine Perle, ein Kleinod gestolpert. Der Waise J Dieser 2013 mit dem Pulitzer Preis ausgezeichnete Roman ist bedauerlicherweise bisher völlig an mir vorbeigegangen. Dann entdeckte er mich kürzlich zufällig auf dem Weg zu einer Aussichtsplattform, ich stolperte quasi über ihn. Am Tag der Annäherung von Nord- und Südkorea beschloss ich nun, dass es Zeit ist, mich mit diesem Werk zu beschäftigen. Wahnsinn! Ich fasse noch immer nicht, was mir bisher entgangen ist, da bin ich doch glatt unvermutet über eine Perle, ein Kleinod gestolpert. Der Waise Jun Do hat kein eigenes Leben, keine Familie, sein ganzes Dasein und sein Lebenszweck ist dem großen Führer Kim Jog Il (als Stellvertreter natürlich den ausführenden Parteibonzen), seinen Bedürfnissen, Wünschen und Forderungen gewidmet. Durch diese Konstellation schlittert und laviert er durch ein atemberaubendes total fremdbestimmtes Leben, das in seiner Grausamkeit tragisch, episch und opernhaft in seiner Groteskheit und Absurdität aber fast operettenhaft wirkt. Fast so wie wir uns den geliebten Führer Nord-Koreas vorstellen, so wie uns dieser wahnwitzige eitle Zwerg in den Medien präsentiert wird. Ich hoffe, ich kriege die Analogien richtig zusammen, denn der Stil dieses irrwitzigen Entwicklungsromans ist einzigartig. Der Roman hat von seiner lapidaren Grausamkeit her sehr viel von Remarques Im Westen nichts Neues gemischt mit sehr viel Kafka, und einem Schuss Anarchie der Monty Pythons, aber nicht die humorvollen Szenen sondern die brachial-grotesken. Somit sind die nicht seltenen sehr gewalttätigen Sequenzen aber auch etwas verträglicher, weil sie durch die Absurdität etwas weniger realistisch wirken. "Das wahre Leben hatte ihn wieder - man hatte ihn für eine neue Aufgabe eingeteilt, und Jun Do machte sich keine Illusionen darüber, was das bedeuten mochte. Er drehte sich wieder zu den Anzugträgern um. Sie redeten über einen kranken Kollegen und spekulierten, ob er wohl Nahrungsmittel bei sich im Haus gehortet hatte und wer die Wohnung bekommen würde, wenn er starb." Eine kafkaeske surreale menschenverachtende Münchhausiade, die so perfekt mit abstrusen Fakten über Nord-Korea gestrickt und eng gewoben ist, dass man nicht erkennt, wo die Wahrheit aufhört und die Fiktion beginnt - ich bin ENTZÜCKT!! 😍😍😍😍 Beispielsweise entführen die Nordkoreaner in China, Japan und Südkorea massenweise Personen, die irgendwer haben will: den Sushi Koch und den Leibarzt für den geliebten Führer, Frauen für Generäle, Schauspieler um die Filmindustrie aufzubauen ..... Am Anfang dachte ich mir noch, dieses abstruse Gschichtl ist gut erfunden, dann empfand ich es als so arg, dass es schon wieder wahr sein könnte. Nach einer ausführlichen Recherche, ob so was wirklich im großen Stil stattgefunden hat, fiel ich aus allen Wolken: Das ist tatsächlich in der Realität so passiert. Das geschiedene Schauspielerehepaar wurde aus Südkorea entführt, die Schauspielerin ist tatsächlich bei einer Auslandstournee geflüchtet und hat in Wien um politisches Asyl angesucht. Massenweise Japaner wurden entführt, um als Sprach- und Japanischlehrer zu fungieren, damit die Koreaner in einer japanischen Passagiermaschine nicht auffallen und einen Terroranschlag durchführen konnten. Unpackbar! Insgesamt 30 Entfürhungen hat Nord-Korea zugegeben mehr als 100 haben alleine die Japaner nachweislich dokumentiert. Jun Do entwickelt sich im Laufe des Romans und wechselt in Folge seiner fehlenden persönlichen Identität und eines Glücksfalls auch sehr schnell zu der Identität des Generals Ga, den er in Notwehr umgebracht hat. In einem Staat, in dem alle vorauseilenden Gehorsam gewohnt sind, brauchen nur zwei bis drei einflussreiche Personen inkl. der große Führer diese Scharade unterstützen, schon folgen alle der Münchhausiade. Sogar die Ehefrau, die einen Treuetest des Führers oder ihres ehemaligen Gemahls vermutet, steigt in das Spiel ein. Zudem wird dieser Glücksfall von Jun Do noch gefördert, da Kommandant Ga einer der größten und unbeliebtesten Verbrecher des Landes war, der sogar von Kim Jong Il gehasst wird, weil sich beide gar so ähnlich sind. In der ganzen skurrilen Geschichte steckt noch viel mehr drinnen, aber ich kann dem ganzen gar nicht gerecht werden, erstens wahrscheinlich überhaupt nicht in meiner Rezension und dann schon gar nicht, ohne massiv zu spoilern. Bei all den Absurditäten, die sich nach Recherche auf jeden Fall zu einem Großteil als wahr erweisen, ist Adam Johnson möglicherweise der tiefste, intensivste ausführlichste und wahrhaftigste Blick auf den Operettenstaat Nordkorea mit dem Vorbild des Shogunats und in die verwirrten Seelen des geknechteten, mit Stockholm Syndrom gepeinigten Täter- und Opfervolks zugleich gelungen. Fazit: Einer der Höhepunkte in meinem Buchjahr - sowohl aus politischer, dramaturgischer und sprachlicher Sicht ein absoluter Knüller, der auf jeden Fall in meine All-Time-Favourites eingeht! Aber eben ein bisschen abstrus in seiner Realität und sicher nicht für Jedermannfrau geeignet.

  28. 4 out of 5

    João Carlos

    Após sete anos de investigação e uma viagem “organizada” à Coreia do Norte o norte-americano Adam Johnson (n. 1967) escreve “Vida Roubada”, no original “The Orphan Masters Son” (2012) e recebe o Prémio Pulitzer 2013 para Ficção. O romance “Vida Roubada”, com o subtítulo na edição portuguesa, “Uma Saga de Amor, Esperança e Redenção no País Mais Fechado do Mundo”, está dividido em duas partes: Primeira Parte – A Biografia de Jun Do e Segunda Parte – As Confissões do Comandante Ga (Um anos depois). J Após sete anos de investigação e uma viagem “organizada” à Coreia do Norte o norte-americano Adam Johnson (n. 1967) escreve “Vida Roubada”, no original “The Orphan Master´s Son” (2012) e recebe o Prémio Pulitzer 2013 para Ficção. O romance “Vida Roubada”, com o subtítulo na edição portuguesa, “Uma Saga de Amor, Esperança e Redenção no País Mais Fechado do Mundo”, está dividido em duas partes: Primeira Parte – A Biografia de Jun Do e Segunda Parte – As Confissões do Comandante Ga (Um anos depois). Jun Do é um “órfão”, que tem uma mãe cantora, que por ser bela foi “despachada” para Pyongyang, acabando por nunca a conhecer; e o seu pai, um educador cruel e tirano, um homem sem contemplações na aplicação dos castigos físicos, é o “Guardião dos Órfãos” no orfanato “Longos Amanhãs”, a quem eram dados “novos” nomes a partir da lista dos 114 Grandes Mártires Revolucionários. Na Primeira Parte Jun Do é um cidadão modelo – "um cidadão humilde da maior nação do Mundo" - que se integra numa estrutura ditatorial, opressiva e misteriosa, tornando-se num raptor profissional, que navega nas águas geladas ou em túneis escuros, de dia ou de noite, na proximidade da costa do Japão e da Coreia do Sul, sequestrando homens e mulheres inocentes ou “celebridades” cobiçadas e designadas segundo os caprichos da elite norte-coreana ou do próprio ditador Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il - mural em Pyongyang Um thriller emocionante, com relatos angustiantes, sobre violência arbitrária e cruel, numa premissa complexa entre procedimentos mutáveis, previamente estabelecidos pelos seus superiores, e o instinto de sobrevivência de Jun Do. Na Segunda Parte surge um interrogador “anónimo”, que compila biografias de prisioneiros, extraindo confissões em interrogatórios violentíssimos; com Jun Do e o Comandante Ga, numa troca de identidades e “marido de substituição” com a famosa actriz Sun Moon, a intérprete favorita do Querido Líder, num relacionamento complexo, simultaneamente, dramático e hilariante, em que a responsabilidade e a moral se tornam irrelevantes. A estrutura de “Vida Roubada” é complexa, desarticulada, por vezes difícil de acompanhar, numa narrativa que vai saltando de um narrador para outro, de um período temporal para outro, de um estilo de escrita para outro, sem nenhuma explicação, mas sem influência no ritmo ou na compreensão do enredo, mantendo o suspense e as emoções, num contexto imaginativo e aterrador. “Vida Roubada” foi uma verdadeira descoberta literária, um romance épico e emocionante, enquadrado pela sinistra ditadura da Coreia do Norte, oficialmente República Popular Democrática da Coreia, um enigmático thriller, com personagens de ficção e o verdadeiro Querido Líder Kim Jon Il (falecido em 2011); simultaneamente, uma história de amor, inocente e romântica, um retrato fascinante de um País, dominado pela fome, pela corrupção, pela arbitrariedade, pela crueldade, pela propaganda – “CIDADÃOS, juntai-vos em volta dos vossos altifalantes…” ou “CIDADÃOS”, trazemos boas notícias…” - pelos caprichos sádicos, impulsivos e opressivos de uma elite governamental, mas onde se desenvolvem relações genuínas de amor e sacrifício, histórias de sobrevivência e camaradagem, num relato pungente e credível, que oscila entre a melancolia e a sátira. Imagem de satélite (Setembro 2012) da NASA sobre a Coreia do Norte.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    I had misgivings as to even starting this book. A burly Caucasian fella, a Stanford professor no less, feels he can set a novel in North Korea, a place where burly Caucasian guys don't exactly have the run of the ranch; an author who names his three children: Jupiter, James Geronimo and Justice Everlasting. The book he names The Orphan Master's Son, which sounded to me like the spit'em-out ( fill in the occupation )'s Daughter. And then it's also a bestseller, with over 20,000 GR ratings as I wr I had misgivings as to even starting this book. A burly Caucasian fella, a Stanford professor no less, feels he can set a novel in North Korea, a place where burly Caucasian guys don't exactly have the run of the ranch; an author who names his three children: Jupiter, James Geronimo and Justice Everlasting. The book he names The Orphan Master's Son, which sounded to me like the spit'em-out ( fill in the occupation )'s Daughter. And then it's also a bestseller, with over 20,000 GR ratings as I write this, and I shy away from crowds, he sniffed. But it won a shitload of prizes and got rave reviews from GR friends whose opinions I trust. So, at half-priced, I plunged onward. It reads a bit like a thriller. Not a murder mystery, but, rather, a page-turner to find out what happens to Pak Jun Do aka Commander Ga. I think I respected this book more than liked it. I didn't find the characters deeply written nor did I care much for the story. I can't say it accurately depicts North Korea, but certainly the author writes of it with absolute confidence. 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. This book reminded me of one of my earliest reading experiences. I was 6 or 7. Someone got the idea that there should be an after-school Reading class for the borderline precocious. So they brought a civilian in, some lady I didn't recognize. We had to read books and then talk about it in a group. I felt then, and still do, that after school is for drinking small bottles of Coke, eating red licorice and watching bad TV. Styles change, of course, but you get the point. Being made to stay after the bell at age 7 is like being on detention. I remember reading The Red Pony, which I loved, and Captains Courageous, which was some shit about English guys on a boat. Of course, I was asked to discuss Kipling, not Steinbeck. Beginning right then and there with a lifelong gift for dissimulation, my well-combed head spun a little and then I started saying that it was sure vivid how the author described the rope cutting through the sailors' hands. Well, the nice lady heaped so much praise on me that inside I was jumping and tongue-lolling and tail-wagging like the well-patted puppy that I was. I still remember that wet, cutting rope over a half-century later. Such things are in this book. Like the old woman prisoner who teaches Jun Do how to masturbate an ox (feed him a slice of ginger first), you know, for the protein. Or what happens to the tattoo on Jun Do's chest in his final torture. These things a reader doesn't forget.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I have listened to half of this audiobook, and now I refuse to waste m my time anymore! Do you enjoy political satire? Then this book will be right up your alley. But I don’t. Do you enjoy a puzzle? Would it be intriguing to you to figure out what is fantasy and what is real? Again, if you answer in the affirmative, you will most probably enjoy this book. Me, I like to have a firm handle on the events. I want to understand what is definitely happening. You see in North Korea what Kim Jong Il sai I have listened to half of this audiobook, and now I refuse to waste m my time anymore! Do you enjoy political satire? Then this book will be right up your alley. But I don’t. Do you enjoy a puzzle? Would it be intriguing to you to figure out what is fantasy and what is real? Again, if you answer in the affirmative, you will most probably enjoy this book. Me, I like to have a firm handle on the events. I want to understand what is definitely happening. You see in North Korea what Kim Jong Il said, was true even if it wasn’t. What he claimed was reality. Stories become reality, reality, if claimed to be false, well it never happened! In this novel, one person is two and you never know who the impostor is. I have to understand what I read. I have to have a tight grip on the truth. There are three narrators, both in the written and audio version. One is the radio broadcaster’s spewing out the leader’s diatribes. Everyone understands that immediately. The other two are much harder to comprehend. Here again, if you are a reader who enjoys figuring this out you will be happy when you finally understand that that one voices the events of the present and the other of the past. Yes, there is humor, but again not to my taste. Political guffaws do abound. Are you OK with gruesome depiction of torture methods? I am not. I wish I could give this audiobook to someone who would enjoy it. I do not know if the audiobooks purchased at Audible can be leant or even given to others. I f somebody knows please tell me. ********************** What do you think of the New York Times review? I am not quite sure if I will be pleased. I guess the only way to find out is to try it.

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