Top positive review
12 people found this helpful
on February 23, 2016
Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son took me a long time to read. The incredible story of Pak Jun Do skips back and forth in time and if the reader isn't fully engaged it becomes confusing. However, I found it to be an excellent work of fiction that could, in a lot of places, be part of a memoir written by a North Korean defector. Jun Do is the son of a singer who was kidnapped and sent off to Pyongyang, the capitol of North Korea and a father who heads up an orphan's work camp. North Korea is a totalitarian government run by the Kim family dynasty who controls every aspect of the people's lives, and The Orphan Master's Son tells this story very well by showing us what Jun Do goes through to keep his head above water and to stay alive in a country where life can be ended for saying the wrong thing. There is also a love story that is threaded through the book.
Jun Do begins in the orphanage then goes to work in the tunnels that are totally dark. These run under the DMZ and are very dangerous to work in, but he becomes very good at what he does and goes on to language school where he doesn't learn very much. The teacher speaks English which the students are trying to learn, but he doesn't speak Korean. Jun Do is assigned to a kidnapping unit and although he doesn't like it he does as he is told, kidnapping people from the beaches of Japan. One of them is an opera singer and this makes Jun Do think of his own mother who was kidnapped in the same way. He serves time on a fishing boat where he listens to transmissions and follows two women rowing around the world as he listens for signals or transmissions from potential enemies. Jun Do finally winds up in a prison camp where he defeats Commander Ga in a martial arts fight, and who is a rival to Kim Jong-Il. Commander Ga is the husband of Sun Moon, who is a beautiful actress and singer. Jun Do has fallen in love with her.
There is famine and starvation in North Korea and Jun Do has to deal with that tragic outcomes of that. In the work camps there are scenes of violence, but I've read a lot of books including memoirs of defectors from this country and the violence that those who successfully made it out describe is much worse that what is in The Orphan Master's Son. This is a long, often convoluted read, but if you stick with it it is well worth the time spent when you reach the end and all loose ends are tied up nicely by this extraordinary author. It is one of those books you won't easily forget.