Otis Chandler's Reviews > The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
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Mar 25, 12

bookshelves: asia, korea, fiction, literary-fiction
Read from March 11 to 22, 2012

This book takes us into the crazy world of North Korea. Imagine a world where the government controls all information and creates a ton of propaganda. There are loudspeakers in every home that tell this propaganda every morning and every evening. Everyone believes their leader is a saint, that the rest of world (especially Americans) are out to get them and could sneak attack at any moment, that South Korea and America are more poor than they are and thus the Dear Leader is sending them food for aid, and on and on.

The books tells the story of Jun Do, who grows up in an orphanage as the son of the Oprhan Master, and while he claims he's technically not an orphan, it's clear that in effect he is. Orphans are portrayed as lost souls, the bottom of the ladder in society, and always on the search for a father-figure. The first half of the book tells a fairly normal story of Jun Do doing work for his country.

Jun Do had training to withstand pain, ostensibly in case the South Koreans or Japanese captured him. I found the tidbits mentioned around this very interesting - though not sure how accurate they are. One was to establish a place in your mind with lots of light, and don't leave it, no matter how much pain. The other, which I think sounds useful in general, is more for prisoners or any cooped up, and is summed up in this quote:
  “Use your imagination only on the future, never on the present or the past.”

The second half of the book was completely different from the rest of the story, and it was so out of left field and odd that I didn't enjoy it as much. (view spoiler)

Another criticism is that a lot of the dialogue read like it was people in America chatting. A Korean friend also noticed this - it didn't feel very Korean in many places - and thus didn't feel very authentic.

But what I loved most about the book was just the glimpse into North Korea. It's amazing how complete a people can be controlled if you can control their information inputs. I loved the part when they visit America and the Americans keep whispering "You know you lost the war, right?" - because they knew the North Korean government tells it's citizens they won.

I wonder if the internet has changed things? There are a few members of Goodreads who put North Korea as their country - but we have zero traffic from that country, so perhaps they are all expats/escapees.

I'll leave you with my favorite line from the book:

"'The next day, she was silent. For breakfast, she murdered an onion and served it raw."
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Quotes Otis Liked

Adam Johnson
“The next day, she was silent. For breakfast, she murdered an onion and served it raw.”
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son

Adam Johnson
“When the dogs returned, the Senator gave them treats from his pocket, and Jun Do understood that in communism, you'd threaten a dog into compliance, while in capitalism, obedience is obtained through bribes.”
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son

Adam Johnson
“Use your imagination only on the future, never on the present or the past.”
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son

Adam Johnson
“Real stories like this, human ones, could get you sent to prison, and it didn’t matter what they were about. It didn’t matter if the story was about an old woman or a squid attack—if it diverted emotion from the Dear Leader, it was dangerous.”
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son

Adam Johnson
“Inside, I’m assaulted by the evening propaganda broadcasts coming over the apartment’s hardwired loudspeaker. There’s one in every apartment and factory floor in Pyongyang”
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son

Adam Johnson
“Orphans are the only ones who get to choose their fathers, and they love them twice as much.”
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son


Reading Progress

03/11/2012
11.0% "Telling stories not about Our Dear Leader can get you killed?"
03/14/2012
36.0% "Didn't see the texas bbq coming. Now I'm hungry!"
03/15/2012
50.0% "Sun Moon is a real person - but very different from the actress described in the book. Does she exist in real life? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Myun..."
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez I read that book, but haven't written a review about it yet.


message 2: by Carrie (new) - added it

Carrie It's just been announced the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction!https://asunews.asu.edu/20130419_inth...


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