Kemper's Reviews > The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
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Feb 15, 12

bookshelves: 2012, modern-lit, over-there, politics, spy-vs-spy
Read from February 04 to 15, 2012

If I wasn’t glad that Kim Jong Il is dead before reading this book, I certainly am now.

Pak Jun Do never knew his mother and is raised in the orphanage his father runs. Because of this, he is constantly mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life. Eventually Jun Do winds up as one of the tunnel fighters who work in secret passages under the DMZ into South Korea, but he’s recruited to be part of a team that goes out in boats and snatches random citizens from Japanese or South Korean beaches. From there he goes to being a radio operator on fishing boat where an elaborate lie the crew is forced to cook up to save their skins turns him into an unlikely national hero and gets put on a delegation going to Texas to visit an American senator. Eventually Jun Do’s fortunes take an odd turn that will eventually bring him face to face with the greatest actress in the world (According to North Korean propaganda.) Sun-moon, and The Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.

Propaganda plays a big part in this story. That fits since this is a country where the leader supposedly shot the lowest round of golf in history the first time he played and where the citizens are expected to proclaim North Korea is the greatest nation on earth even as they’re starving to death or being sent to prison mines. One of the pieces I liked most was how much of the second half is told to us via third person narration and then we get the North Korean loud speaker version of what occurred.

I also liked the character of Jun Do quite a bit. From the beginning, he’s a guy who finds himself constantly trying to survive by doing terrible things while saying that he has no choice, but he still finds himself sucked into more and more trouble.

Unfortunately, I didn’t buy the developments with the actress Sun-moon or the wilder plot twists late in the book. Another character, an interrogation expert, gets involved, but his first person narration didn’t do much for me. I would have preferred more stuff with Kim Jong Il because those scenes were alternately hilarious and terrifying.

There was a lot to like here, but in the end I felt it was too drawn out, and the author got too cute for his own good in places. And one part really bugged me. (view spoiler)

It’s one of those books that will make almost anyone appreciate what they have, though. Like now I’m grateful that I live far from any beaches or national borders so that I don’t have to worry about being snatched by one of those secret Canadian kidnapping teams.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie "Like now I’m grateful that I live far from any beaches or national borders so that I don’t have to worry about being snatched by one of those secret Canadian kidnapping teams."

They might even make you eat Poutine.


message 2: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Oh, and here in northern PRO, on the lake (I can see Canada from my house) I am in great danger. You are lucky my friend.


Kemper Stephanie wrote: "Oh, and here in northern PRO, on the lake (I can see Canada from my house) I am in great danger. You are lucky my friend."

If you're walking by the lake shore and see some guys pull up in a boat, run away!


message 4: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie You know it! But I frequently see the border patrol around (for real) so I take comfort in that.


James it's fiction!


Kemper James wrote: "it's fiction!"

You mean there's no such place as North Korea?? Thank god. It sounded terrible.


message 7: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie No Dear Leader with his funky hair and love of all things American? Sad.....

K to the J to the IL not in the hizzy.


message 8: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo I think the world doesn't take North Korea serious enough. There was a time, in Germany, when people thought Hitler was just an idiot who would go away again. And then, all of a sudden and quite unexpectedly, he was in power, and everybody knows the end of this story.


Fabienne I absolutely agree with your review. The puppy part bothered me too. And I did want a bit more of the Dear Leader scenes. Chilling, no bout.


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