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5 Local Warehouse Literature- A to Z

The Orphan Master's Son

by

The Orphan Master's Son Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. How much did you know about North Korea before reading The Orphan Master’s Son? How has it changed your perspective on life there?

2. The Orphan Master’s Son has been characterized as a thriller, a love story, and a political dystopia. How would you classify the novel in terms of genre? How do you think each of these genres manifests itself in the book?

3. Speaking of genre, Adam Johnson once categorized the novel as a “trauma narrative.” How do you interpret that term? Do you think it suitably describes the novel, and if so, in what ways?

4. How did you feel about the inclusion of Kim Jong Il as a central character in the book? How would you say Johnson depicts him? Were you surprised by his portrayal?

5. Discuss the differences between the first part of the novel, “The Biography of Jun Do,” and the second, “The Confessions of Commander Ga.”

6. How do the propaganda chapters, written as if spoken from a loudspeaker, play into your reading of the novel?

7. What do you feel the first-person narrative contributed to the story? Did you feel more or less removed from a world so closely guarded?

8. Reviewers have drawn comparisons between The Orphan Master’s Son and classic dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. Are these apt comparisons? Does Johnson’s fiction, which is based on fact, have a different impact from that of novels which center on invented worlds?

9. At one point, Dr. Song says to Jun Do, “Where we are from, stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.” What does this mean in the context of the novel?

10. In one of the most poignant and powerful moments in the book, one of the interrogators remembers the way in which his father explained life in North Korea: “Even if we walked this path side by side, he said, we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.” What does the quote imply about the reality of living in such a repressive society? How does it speak to humanness in the face of inhumanity?

11. Discuss the significance of “Jun Do” as a homonym for “John Doe,” the Western name for the unnamed and the everyman.

12. Discuss Jun Do’s physical and emotional journey, and his transformation from the beginning of the novel to the end.

13. One critic described The Orphan Master’s Son as “darkly comedic,” and another as, at times, “ridiculously funny.” How do you feel about the use of comedy in conjunction with the brutality of the novel?

14. How should the rest of the world respond to the violence and tyranny of present-day North Korea? Do we have a moral obligation to intervene? What can we do to help the people of North Korea without supporting its government?

 

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

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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jackie carlson, December 31, 2013 (view all comments by jackie carlson)
I'm in. Just from the sample.
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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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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812982626
Author:
Johnson, Adam
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Subject:
Thrillers
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20120831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
] A.&rdquo;&mdash;<i>Entertainment Weekly<br></i><
Language:
English
Pages:
480
Dimensions:
8.01 x 5.2 x 0.98 in 0.8 lb

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The Orphan Master's Son Used Trade Paper
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Product details 480 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812982626 Reviews:
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "Impossible to forget...Adam Johnson unleashes a big, thrilling, and fully realized talent."
"Review" by , "Remarkable...Johnson’s heroes are isolated and alienated, but are capable of feeling just the right emotion at just the right time."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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.'"
"Review" by , "Ambitious, violent, audacious — and stunningly good."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , “A daring and remarkable novel.”
"Review" by , “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.”
"Review" by , “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."
"Review" by , “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.”
"Review" by , “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.”
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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