blackened.sky9, October 21, 2014 (view all comments by blackened.sky9)
I confess I was a little scared when I started reading this book, because the idea of a North Korean protagonist written by a North American author seemed like it could so easily fall into soap-boxing or stereotyping, but I was more than pleaseantly surprised. The characters in the book are utterly themselves, utterly alive and real, and while the reality of North Korea is stark (it has to be) and what they go through is sometimes very difficult and often-times tragi-comic, there is never a moment when you feel that there's mockery or grandstanding about how amazing the West is versus everything else. Rather, the protagonist and other characters are fascinating and ordinary people, trying their best to live in a country that a lot of the time forces them into rather extraordinary circumstances. Truly worth reading.
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Kennyspen, December 16, 2013 (view all comments by Kennyspen)
It's hard to explain how a book so bleak in subject matter and setting -- North Korea under Kim Jung il -- can be so full of heart, humanity and even humor, but it is. It worked for me both as a "good read," meaning a compulsively readable page turner focused on one young man's life, and as a serious, thought provoking book raising issues about, well, just about everything important: individual identity and society, torture, good and evil, family, love, survival. The portion of the book where our hero is at sea has lovely, haunting moments, and the interlude in Texas provides some comic relief.
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Julia Wagner, January 18, 2013 (view all comments by Julia Wagner)
A North Korean counterpart to Dicken's David Copperfield, "Jun Do," the protagonist of this fascinating book, attempts first to survive and then to thrive in a society that initially rejects him. If Johnson's book were only about this journey, it would be worth recommending as a primer about life in what may be the most repressive political system in the world. But it is also something more, and something perhaps even more compelling, insomuch as it explores the value of telling stories--particularly when the power of a state resides not only, or not even primarily, in naked control, but much more in its ability to keep citizens involved in compelling narratives even as they are dying of hunger.
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Taylor Thorne, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Taylor Thorne)
If you Google North Korea, you'll find a blank outline of border and nothing else. Adam Johnson fills in this landscape with his wonderfully original "The Orphan Master's Son." Part romance, part spy story, and entirely subversive, this is a book that holds high the power of storytelling, the art of the lie, and the manipulation of the outcome of "Casablanca". I mean, what can you even begin to say about a book where Kim Jong Il gets all the funniest lines (and oh boy is he funny!), except, of course he does, it's North Korea. This is a great big twisted comedic thriller, a book I think back to often, and look forward to reading again.
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Random House Trade -
by Abraham Verghese,
"Adam Johnson has pulled off literary alchemy, first by setting his novel in North Korea, a country that few of us can imagine, then by producing such compelling characters, whose lives unfold at breakneck speed. I was engrossed right to the amazing conclusion. The result is pure gold, a terrific novel."
by Booklist (Starred review),
"[A] fantastical, careening tale....Informed by extensive research and travel to perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, Johnson has created a remarkable novel that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief....Johnson winningly employs different voices, with the propagandizing national radio station serving as a mad Greek chorus. Part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and part romance, The Orphan Master's Son is a triumph on every level."
by Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad,
"Impossible to forget...Adam Johnson unleashes a big, thrilling, and fully realized talent."
by The New Yorker,
"Remarkable...Johnson’s heroes are isolated and alienated, but are capable of feeling just the right emotion at just the right time."
by Seattle Weekly,
"Teeming with clever conceits, superb turns of phrase, observations as precise as Updike’s, and tonal echoes of Vonnegut, Boyle, and George Sanders...The author is wise, weird and worth watching."
by David Mitchell,
"An addictive novel of daring ingenuity, a study of sacrifice and freedom in a citizen-eating dynasty, and a timely reminder that anonymous victims of oppression are also human beings who love — The Orphan Master's Son is a brave and impressive book."
by Library Journal (Starred review),
"Readers who enjoy a fast-paced political thriller will welcome this wild ride through the amazingly conflicted world that exists within the heavily guarded confines of North Korea. Highly recommended."
"[A] vivid, violent portrait of a nation...[a] macabrely realistic, politically savvy, satirically spot-on saga. Johnson's metathriller, spiked with gory intrigues and romantic subplots, is a ripping piece of fiction that is also an astute commentary on the nature of freedom, sacrifice, and glory in a world where everyone's 'a survivor who has nothing to live for.'"
by O Magazine,
"Ambitious, violent, audacious — and stunningly good."
"The Kim Jong Il that we meet in Adam Johnson's second novel, set in North Korea, is no cartoon villain, no Team America marionette. He's a three-dimensional character — a hairsprayed, jump-suited, hopping-mad monomaniac, sure, but a man in whom we can recognize some of our own jealousies and desires....Peering into one of the world's most closed societies, the author has located the similarities between us and them, offering the possibility that we in the United States might be able to relate to the cognitive dissonance North Koreans experience on a daily basis. The idea that we can clearly recognize the people behind that iron curtain — that we can identify with their psychological disconnects — ought to console us, just as it ought to trouble us."
by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times,
“A daring and remarkable novel.”
by San Jose Mercury News,
“Gripping....Deftly blending adventure, surreal comedy and Casablanca-style romance, the novel takes readers on a jolting ride through an Orwellian landscape of dubious identity and dangerous doublespeak.”
by The Washington Post,
“This is a novel worth getting excited about....Adam Johnson has taken the papier-mâché creation that is North Korea and turned it into a real and riveting place that readers will find unforgettable....Johnson has painted in indelible colors the nightmare of Kim's North Korea. When English readers want to understand what it was about — how people lived and died inside a cult of personality that committed unspeakable crimes against its citizens — I hope they will turn to this carefully documented story. The happy surprise is that they will find it such a page turner."
by The Wall Street Journal,
“The single best work of fiction published in 2012....The book’s cunning, flair and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word.”
by The New Republic,
“Remarkable and heartbreaking....To [the] very short list of exceptional novels that also serve a humanitarian purpose The Orphan Master’s Son must now be added.”
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST • LONGLISTED FOR THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY:
The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle • Financial Times • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • The Plain Dealer • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • Slate • Salon • BookPage • Shelf Awareness
Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother — a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang — and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He 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.”
In this epic, critically acclaimed tour de force, Adam Johnson provides a riveting portrait of a world rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.