The Orphan Master’s Son

Thoughts tomsbyaj The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, Random House Trade Paperback 2012, 443 pages

Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction 2013

FIRST Line:  “Citizens, gather ’round your loudspeaker, for we bring important updates!”

What’s is ABOUT:  Pak Jun Do is an orphan, except his father runs the orphanage so he technically isn’t but his dad doesn’t want to treat him any more special than the other boys. The first half of the book is his biography from his childhood on until he disappears into a prison camp after some crazy adventures on a ship and a special trip to Texas. The second half of the book he assumes the identity of one of the most powerful men in North Korea.  Ooops – that might be a spoiler, but probably not. We are ‘treated’ to the lifestyles and culture of what it means to live in North Korea. It aint pretty.

“Nobody’s ever safe.”  -p.163

What’s GOOD: Satire. To me it means putting horrible things into a funny this-is-crazy gotta-laugh-or-I’ll scream kind of way. And I laughed. A lot. Jun Do was adorable and sweet and had a great heart. He carried out his awful orders but he didn’t let it diminish his light.

What’s maybe NOT so good:  It just takes a bit to get into. It is told in such a straight-forward almost non-emotional way, so matter of fact, that it makes it hard to care about the characters until some point you do and then, of course,  you keep reading.  Also, there is a scene out of order – somewhere when Dear Leader is talking about a woman making it into the corps of bully interrogators but she hadn’t been invited into the ‘club’ until after that part of the story had occurred. Extremely minor but it bothered me. I could be wrong, of course.

FINAL Thoughts:  I really was impressed with how the story unfolded and how much I cared about Jun Do. The characters were quirky and believable when what they endure is totally UNbelievable. And yet the author uses true stories as source for this novel! It’s crazy. Scary and crazy.

RATING: Four and half slices of pie:  PEACH PIE! But of course. So here’s a picture of a couple of Peach Pie Crumbles with little Cherry Vanilla Pot Pies as sidekicks:


Other REVIEWS:   Caribou’s MomBookChatter, Leeswammes’ Blog, and the results of Fyrefly’s Book Blog Search for lots more.

“Someone will save you, he thought… If you just hold tight long enough someone is bound to.”   -p. 76


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23 Responses to “The Orphan Master’s Son”

  1. 1 Brooke August 22, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Despite this book being so acclaimed, I’ve read many hit and miss reviews so I haven’t picked it up yet. I really need to though so I can form my own opinion. Glad to hear you mostly enjoyed the book even if the narrative was a bit difficult to get into.

    • 2 Care August 22, 2013 at 9:39 am

      I can’t describe why I liked it so much but I do know that my interest and affection (?) for it grew as I got into the story. I just know that so many of my friends have struggled with it and I just wonder what it is that hooked me exactly.

  2. 3 Ti August 22, 2013 at 10:38 am

    It did take quite a bit of time for me to get into it and it was all over the place at one point, but the guy grew on me. The humor saved it from being the depressing bore that I expected it to be.

    • 4 Care August 22, 2013 at 11:07 am

      Depressing bore! Remember that scene in the garden when they spoke of their shared ‘politic philosophies’ in the heat and humidity of the hothouse? I was roaring with laughter.

  3. 5 Leeswammes August 22, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I’m one that struggled! Glad you liked it, though, It had a lot going for it, but it was too much for me. I didn’t care about the main character as you did.

  4. 7 Heather August 22, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I’m with you on this one–I think it’s a very good book.

  5. 9 bermudaonion (Kathy) August 22, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Hm, this may not be for me. I’m reading a book right now that is told in a non-emotional way and I’m struggling with it.

    • 10 Care August 22, 2013 at 11:09 am

      It just isn’t a book for everyone, I guess. It actually reminds me somewhat of Diaz’s Oscar Wao – the epicness and what all they have to endure yet find/keep a sense of humanity. Or maybe it’s my complex reaction to a book that is prize-winning. I do think I tend to like these because I want to like them.

  6. 11 Too Fond August 22, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I started this one a few days ago and am still unsure. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it.

  7. 13 iliana August 23, 2013 at 7:04 am

    Well this sounds like an interesting book for sure! I don’t think I’ve read many books set in North Korea. Oh maybe one and it wasn’t all that great so wouldn’t mind reading another author’s perspective.

    • 14 Care August 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      I have been told that a nonfiction book called Nothing to Envy is an excellent book about North Korea and I was going to read that as a companion piece but I don’t yet have it in my hands. (My library card expired! Can you believe that?!?!)

  8. 15 Jeanne August 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

    There’s satire? That makes me re-evaluate looking for a copy!

    • 16 Care August 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Oh. Yea. Dripping with satire. In your face satire. But please tell me if I’m wrong… Satire is hard to explain to people who don’t get it, right?

  9. 17 Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny's Books) August 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    My coworker is constantly harassing me about reading this book. I know I’ll like it but it looks so dark! I’m also annoyed that it won the Tournament of Books when I wanted HHhH to win (because that’s the book I picked in our office Tournament of Books pool).

    • 18 Care August 24, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      Gin-Jenny, I think you might like this one. I know you admire the strong characters who want to be their best and learn and grow and Jun Do fits that. He has some wonderful people put in his path and he learns what he cans from them. You could call this a love story and certainly a spirit-triumphs kind of book.

  10. 19 Lisa August 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I did love the dark satire of this one but you’re right, it is hard to get into because it’s hard to care.

  11. 21 aartichapati August 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    It is hard to imagine a book about North Korea being funny. Glad this one is good!

  12. 23 Chandra Lawrie August 27, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    I didn’t care for it…I had read a book, a travel book, by Denis Hickey called Breaking Free and he visited places like this one so I thought I would enjoy it…I just couldn’t get it. As for Hickey’s book, I reccomend it for a great book club read…just throwing it out there.

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