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Customer Review

249 of 265 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cruelty of Fate and the Nobility of True Love, October 25, 2011
This review is from: The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize - Fiction) (Hardcover)
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The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson is set in modern day North Korea. North Korea epitomizes Orwellian horror. This is a country where you can be condemned for no more reason than that the poster of Kim Jong Il on your wall has a torn corner, where children spy on their parents and starvation is a way of life. In Korea, the story about a person is what is important, not the person. If the story changes, then the person had better change himself to fit. Every day there are public service announcements telling the stories of the heroes and enemies of the state.

The protagonist, Jun Do, is named for one of the "heroes of the revolution", a man who committed suicide to prove himself worthy of the revolution. Jun Do's father, the orphan master, never openly acknowledges his son as such and "proves" his love by being more cruel to him than to the orphans in his care. An orphan's lot in North Korea is grim beyond Dickins' tales of early industrial England. Their lives are brutal, short and exploited.

Our protagonist becomes a tunnel soldier, trained in zero light taekwando. He is then conscripted into becoming a kidnapper working in Japan to provide selected individuals to serve Pyongyang's desires. He is successful as a kidnapper and is rewarded by being trained to become an English translator, doing radio surveillance on board a fishing vessel where the sailors all have their wives' pictures tattooed on their chests. He is selected to accompany a State visit to the USA. The visit is something of a humiliation for North Korea and Jun Do is sent off to prison where he kills and takes the place of one of the heroes of modern North Korea, Commander Ga, and falls in love with Ga's wife, Son Moon, a famous movie star.

This gripping tale is told by alternating propaganda from Kim Jong Il and the Pyongyang regime with the often grim reality of the protagonist, the orphan master's son. The propaganda takes the form of stories about the characters themselves, both as heroes and enemies of the State. There is wild adventure, amazing courage, brutal torture and true love.

Adam Johnson has written a masterful tale, a love story, a page-turner with philosophical overtones, and adventure thriller. I recommend this book highly, but it is most definitely not for the faint of heart and most assuredly not for children. Read this and weep for cruel fate and rejoice in the power and nobility of true love.
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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 25, 2011 1:42:06 PM PDT
Wulfstan says:
Sounds interesting. Great review!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2011 3:40:16 PM PDT
Wulfstan, Thank you. It is, indeed, very interesting. Bonnie

Posted on Oct 26, 2011 8:14:43 AM PDT
I, too, own this one and am dying to read it. Your review fuels the enthusiasm even more -- well-done!

Posted on May 2, 2012 11:11:55 AM PDT
Thanks for your thoughtful review of this indelibly truthful book.

In reply to an earlier post on May 2, 2012 1:21:59 PM PDT
ML, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm happy that my review was helpful to you. Bonnie

Posted on Sep 9, 2012 4:36:16 AM PDT
Evie says:
Bonnie...I just read this magnificent book and in doing a quick scan of the reviews to see what other readers thought of it, I came across your beautiful review and was delighted to see it in one of the highlight spots. Really, Bonnie, this might be your best-ever review! It's really stunning, my book sister, and really captures the book's essence while still leaving any potential readers the thrill of discovering that essence for themselves. That is a true 5 star review, Bonnie, and you nailed it! Evie

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 9, 2012 8:16:29 AM PDT
Evie, Thank you for your kind words. This was a difficult review to write. Bonnie

Posted on May 17, 2013 5:19:56 PM PDT
Mary Lins says:
So glad you turned me on to this great novel, Bonnie. It's one of those that really "Stick with you" for days if not more. I can certainly see why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

Posted on Jun 16, 2013 8:06:48 PM PDT
I'm half-way through now, Bonnie. I agree with you about the ingredients of the book, though currently have found more that is repulsive or simply absurd than those strokes of humanity that are supposed to balance them out -- though they are there too, along with some welcome touches of humor. You mention Dickens and Orwell, and I see why. Even more, you could add Kafka. But all these authors were satirists, using invention and exaggeration to make serious points. Similarly, I am less struck by Johnson's ability to "penetrate" North Korea, than to use the fact of its being an IMpenetrable society to make up what he pleases. The particular balance between truth and invention is one of the thing that makes this a special book, but all the same it makes me uneasy. I very much doubt I will come out with more than four stars, if that. Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2013 8:11:10 PM PDT
This is an unusual book in that it intrigues and revolts at the same time. It is definitely Kafkaesque. Bonnie
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