RandomAnthony's Reviews > The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
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's review
Jun 07, 2012

it was amazing

If Mike Reynolds hadn't raved about this book I probably wouldn't have read it. Here's his review:


I'm glad I read The Orphan Master's Son, however, so thanks, Mike.

Why wouldn't I have read this novel without Mike's recommendation? Well, I'm leery of any book about another culture that hints of an uplifting, inspirational tale about overcoming obstacles or whatever. I hate that shit. It's not that I hate feeling uplifted but those stories, in my eyes, tend to minimize third world horrors and leave American whitey feeling good while sending the subtle message that poor people without food and medicine would be fine if they flew kites or won game shows or discovered love is the answer. In movies, by the way, this is called the Slumdog Millionaire effect.

But The Orphan Master's Son emerges from a different species. Adam Johnson did crazy research and maintains an epic, jaw-dropping sense of small details. And while a reader could finish the novel and say, “Man, North Korea is a fucked up place”, this book is about more than North Korea's toxicity. It works as a suspense thriller where you want to skip to the end because you have to know what happens. The narrative blends time and characters across the landscape; you have to read closely to catch the nuances. And the themes of sacrifice and identity emerge in fascinating ways. Life is brief and barbaric for many in Johnson's North Korea; the effect is both numbing and overwhelming. And while Jun Do, the main character, has his noble elements, he's much more complex than any lead in a movie that's going to win a feel-good Oscar.

Were I betting man (and seriously, I'm not, I hate casinos) I would put big money on The Orphan Master's Son taking home a briefcase full of literary awards. Can you bet on literary awards, by the way? Can you call a phone number and somewhere in a smoky bar a bookie picks up, and you say, “I want David Foster Wallace at 4 to 1 on the Nobel”? I have no idea. This novel subverted what I expected from narrative and character in the best way possible. How often do you get to say that? Check it out before all those annoying award stickers land on the front covers of new editions.
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Reading Progress

June 7, 2012 – Started Reading
June 7, 2012 – Shelved
June 7, 2012 –
page 105
Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Keeten I think you just hit on a whole new business...you'd be the first book bookie. A new addiction for all of us bibliophiles.

I've been on the fence about this one, but your review was very reassuring.

message 2: by David (last edited Jun 20, 2012 03:37PM) (new)

David In movies, by the way, this is called the Slumdog Millionaire effect.

Whaaaat? You mean everyday life in impoverished countries doesn't involve mortifying dance numbers in train stations?

The cover of this book bothers me. It's ugly and cheap-looking.

And since you wanted a dame's opinion on that other book, maybe you should get Eh's opinion on this one. She's Korean or something.

Cheryl great review, thanks

RandomAnthony Thanks, Cheryl and Jeff! And David, the cover isn't that good, true. The tiger theme runs through the book. It's important to the scene where the people in tiger suits dance around the public square before the protagonists discover true love.

RandomAnthony Eh! may be Korean, but I'm afraid to ask her because I think asking her to be the token woman AND token Korean might be overkill.

message 6: by David (new)

David RandomAnthony wrote: "Eh! may be Korean, but I'm afraid to ask her because I think asking her to be the token woman AND token Korean might be overkill."

She's also the token short person.

message 7: by PH (new) - rated it 4 stars

PH Yep, you've nailed it more than a year ago: the awards are pouring in. Nice call!

ariel godDAMN mike reynolds taking his review from us!!

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