Stephen King's Reviews > The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
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In a stunning feat of imagination, Johnson puts us inside Jun Do (yep, John Doe), a North Korean orphan who stumbles from poverty to a job as body double for a Hero of the Eternal Revolution. The closed world of North Korea revealed here—where businessmen are conscripted to work in the rice fields and the ruthless Kim Jong-il is still the Dear Leader—goes beyond anything Orwell ever imagined. The Orphan Master’s Son veers from cold terror to surrealistic humor with ease, and succeeds as both a thriller and a social satire. Put it on your shelf next to Catch-22.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 31, 2014 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-34 of 34 (34 new)

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Megan Revealed? Fabricated, more likely. It bothers me the most when the book tries too hard to pull off as an authentic tale of North Korea. If it is just a novel, fictional piece of work like it is, I'd enjoyed it more. But it gnaws at me by how he won one of the highest prize in writing by exploiting a country that's closed off to the world.


Darla This was my top read of last year--incredible prose and haunting imagery that resonates with me 55 books later and months of time. Incredible novel--propaganda as narrative art form. Superb.


message 3: by April (new) - added it

April I've been "toying" with the idea of reading this one. I think it's finally time I put it on my TBR list.


Patrisia Sheremeta I don't think the point of the book was to give the reader an authentic look at North Korea. It's a book about identity - specifically the identity of the individual in a totalitarian society. I'm just making this up, but I think I'm right anyway.


Darla If you read interviews with Adam Johnson you will find he traveled to North Korea in order to research life in North Korea for his work of FICTION for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for FICTION.


Kristien it definitely takes you outside your comfort zone


Tracy Loved it.


chance ammirata greatbook


message 9: by Sally Rhodes (new)

Sally Rhodes Thank you Darla.


Vanessa Chattman I think this book has plenty of suspense. This is an awesome piece of literature.


Maryann Tough book, but worth the read.


Mackay Catch-22 paired with Candide. Wonderful novel.


message 14: by Fran (new) - rated it 1 star

Fran Ucci Offensive, disjointed and unbelievable-as fiction or a mirror of North Korea. It has no business wining literary awards at all.


Nanette Erickson He not only traveled to North Korea, but he interviewed escapees who had fled to South Korea. Yes, the story is fiction, but it is based in fact.


message 16: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Zulovitz Fran, would you explain the gerund in your second sentence ("wining")? Did you mean winning? If so, please take the time and put forth the effort to spell words correctly -- especially when you're offering a critical review of a book. You wrote you found the book "offensive, disjointed, and unbelievable" (yes, the serial comma does apply here). Why?


message 17: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Kernkamp My daughter recommended The Orphan Master's Son to me as a summer read and it may be the most disturbing book I have ever read. I was const.subtly asking myself what was fact and what was fiction. In retrospect the fact/fiction debate is irrelevant to me. This novel brings us face to face with the question of how an individual survives in a hostile environment. It also deals with political dogma as well as the culture of one or actually any government. All governments have a line of propaganda they disseminate to control the population. Just some less harshly than others. Anyway, after reading the book I spent a lot of random.moments thinking of how individual needs into err sect and conflict with the needs of a government. This was a challenging book but I think well worth the effort. One last comment. I think th Orphan Master's Son is a hard read because we politically and culturally can't and don't want to imagine that reality.


message 18: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Kernkamp PS: sorry for the typos. I'm not used to this keyboard. Please read "into err sect" as intersect. Thanks


message 19: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Zulovitz Carolyn wrote: "PS: sorry for the typos. I'm not used to this keyboard. Please read "into err sect" as intersect. Thanks"

Very astute observations, Carolyn. I agree the book is challenging; not in regard to the prose, which is beautifully rendered: without one having to do much in the way of heavy lifting (unlike, say, Faulkner or Pynchon, which isn't a bad thing; there are all kinds of prose styles, and each is illuminating in its way), Johnson's sentences glide and soar; but the challenge comes principally from the fact that we enter a world whose beauty is constantly tempered by its brutality.

It's one of the things I enjoyed most about the book. It's a good thing sometimes to be jolted from our comfort zones; to be forced to consider perspectives dissimilar to one's own. It's how we grow as human beings. Steinbeck did this often; also Orwell, Mailer, Wiesel, Morrison, Styron… well, it's an extensive list.

When I began the book, I wasn't sure what to think of Jun Do. The things he was forced to do were repellent, as well they should have been. And Jun Do, who had grown up in and had only known such a milieu, didn't question it -- at first. He did as he was told, and that troubled me.

However, Johnson is a writer whose stories are driven by his characters, and I stayed with it. I'm so glad I did. For when Jun Do develops a conscience and realizes not only the humanity in others but in himself as well, and does something about the horrors he is observing, his realization had far more power than it would have otherwise. And what a wonderful surprise it was. To begin reading a novel whose central character is disturbing but then becomes a selfless, compassionate human being… By the novel's end, Jun Do became one of my favorite characters in fiction. It's been two years since I read the novel, and I still find myself thinking of him. For me, this the proof of a beautifully written and realized novel that is also a classic.


Catherine I still recommend this book to anyone who will listen to me. It was the best book I read in 2013, and I read a lot of books.


message 21: by JG (new) - rated it 5 stars

JG I couldn't put it down. It was a great book.


Catherine this was the best book I read the year it was published. the shame was it didn't win the Pulitzer that year & had to wait till the next year.


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Rasheeda I'm not much with words but I "read" this book via audio cds, this made me enjoy it so much more. It was excellent


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Ppar Arjun rawte Nice


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Meenakshi Nice


Laila Herlache I really what to read this! How great this book let me know.


message 31: by Dylan (new)

Dylan This looks like a good book to read if you want to learn about North Korea.


Roger Hardnock Loved this book. Don't know how much is true, but I can imagine much of the horror is not far off.


Bruce Hayward enjoyed every strange moment. don't miss this one.


message 34: by J.D. (new) - rated it 3 stars

J.D. Martin Did you find it difficult to follow along at times? It seemed that the story would jump forward in time here and there with little to no explanation to what was going on. Eventually, you were able to catch up and piece things back together, but it was jarring each time it happened. Other than that, it was an interesting look at the people and country of North Korea.


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