Book Review: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

I recently finished reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Read on to find out a little more about the book, my thoughts, and whether or not I would recommend it.

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Book Review: The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is a unique peek into an isolated country shrouded in secrets. The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction takes readers into the Democratic Republic of Korea, that is, into North Korea, where Kim Jong Il has been serving as the Dear Leader since 1994. The novel follows Pak Jun Do who is literally the Orphan Master’s Son.

When Jun Do’s mother disappears, his father takes on the role of Orphan Master so he can keep his son close to him. Never wanting to draw attention to his son, Jun Do is treated like all the other orphans, including being given a name that identifies him as an orphan. The novel follows Jun Do’s life from the orphanage through various jobs he’s thrown into because of his seemingly unwavering loyalty.

Always mistaken for an orphan, Jun Do is thrown into underground tunnels, kidnapping missions, and fishing expeditions. Through these various roles, he’s repeatedly placed in situations within access to other nations. Although he’s provided with many opportunities to defect, he never does. At first, it’s puzzling, but through Jun Do’s experiences, it becomes possible to see why those wholly submerged in an oppressive culture would stay.

My Thoughts on The Orphan Master’s Son

This novel shows the propaganda, prison camps, and poverty of communist North Korea. It shows the worst of humankind. But it also shows the complexity of humans. It shows kindness and loyalty and love. It shows how when one way of life is all you know, everything else can be terrifying.

The Orphan Master’s Son is not an easy read. It’s a suspenseful, engaging thriller. It does more than just show off North Korea. It explores the nature of humanity and takes readers on a rollercoaster ride of emotional situation.

Because Adam Johnson is an American author, it is difficult to discern fact from fiction within this novel. Johnson travelled to North Korea and toured Pyongyang as well as spoke with a number of defected North Koreans to research the novel, but there must still lack a certain amount of authenticity (in much the same way as any historical fiction in which the author did not participate). It must be acknowledged that unlike the Second World War, there does lack a certain amount of research material available on life in North Korea.

Despite the difficult topics addressed in the novel, it is written in a very accessible and engaging manner. I found the novel to be a fascinating look at a different culture - which was especially interesting and relevant considering how often North Korea has been in the news recently. I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in learning more about the people of North Korea.

I gave The Orphan Master’s Son 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

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