The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son

In an interview Adam Johnson did for, the author talks about how he studied North Korean society by traveling there, in order to get a better feel for the country and it’s people.  “But in North Korea there is a national script,” he says, “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.”

It is this theme that carries into The Orphan Master’s Son, a fictionalized tale of an orphan, Pak Jun Do and how he rises from from the lowest of the ranks of North Koreans to one of the highest – an officer and friend of the leader King Jung Il.  But this isn’t a novel of success, but rather a plot twist in a government narrative – Jun Do literally becomes another person by taking his place.

It took me a long time to truly get into this book – at least two thirds of the way through, but I did enjoy it very much.  Johnson’s portrayal of people and events reminded me of the satire of Mark Helprin, but it wasn’t meant to be satire.  It’s ridiculousness is a very real result of people trying to be something dictated by their government.  The real genius of this book was the way Johnson managed to let his characters become human, in spite of their circumstances.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
443 pages


About Suzanne

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids who loves to read.
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