Rebecca's Reviews > The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
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Mar 05, 12

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When Kim Jong Il died a few months ago, I was fascinated by the videos showing thousands of weeping and wailing mourners lining the route of his funeral procession. Friends and I agreed: this display was strictly for the eyes of the state. Anyone not showing excessive grief was most likely promptly identified and, along with their entire family, subsequently hauled off to prison. I've long wondered why that ridiculous pudgy little man who looks like someone's grandma, the cartoon dictator we laugh at in movies like Team America, was taken seriously by his own people. The rest of the planet--even his fellow despots--certainly does not. Adam Johnson answers that question in The Orphan Master's Son. By turns heartbreaking, horrific, and humorous, Johnson opens the our eyes to day to day life in the world's largest prison. Even though he's not Korean, or has ties to the country (though according to his notes, he did visit North Korea with some guides), I never once doubted what I was reading was an accurate portrayal of this nightmarish regime. There is a narrative break between the first and second parts of the novel that left some reviewers confused, but to me it simply illustrated the central fact of existence under Dear Leader: he is the only individual who gets to have an identity. Everyone else is expendable, their names and their lives interchangeable.

We can only hope things will improve under the young and inexperienced Kim Jong Un, but I have a feeling sixty years of life under two sociopaths has damaged and deranged an entire nation for decades to come.
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