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The Orphan Master's Son
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February 2014 Books > Award-Winning Fiction: The Orphan Master's Son

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Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
We will begin reading and discussing this book February 5th. Feel free to share your thoughts/questions about any aspect of the book. Judy T. will be moderating this discussion.


Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
I thought we'd start this discussion by talking about Pak Jun Do, whose biography comprises the first part of the book. He is literally John Doe, the everyman of North Korea, but I'm wondering if you still got a sense of him as an individual? Did you relate to him as a character?

There is a passage in the first part (pg. 115) where Jun Do is talking to the Second Mate's wife:
"'Don't underestimate yourself -- you'll survive.'
'Survive like you?' she asked.
He didn't say anything.
'You know what you are?' she said. 'You're a survivor who has nothing to live for.'
'What would you rather, that I die for something I cared about?'"
In keeping with the idea of him as an individual rather than a stereotype, do you think by the end of the book his character changes?


Jill (jillreads) | 13 comments In the first half of the book his entire purpose is survival, but by the end of the story he knows that the choices he makes will be the end of him. He found something that was more important to him by that point. (I don't want to say too much in case some people are still reading!)

I found his character fascinating. On page 32 when he had kidnapped the opera singer and he has this conversation with her: (about a line in a song she sang about two lovers who row out to the middle of a lake and stop rowing)
"Your song has been troubling me", he said "The one about the boy who chooses to quit rowing in the middle of the lake."
"Does the boy stop because he has rescued the girl and on the far shore he will have to giver her to his superiors? Or has the boy stolen the girl and know what punishment awaits?"
"It's a love story" she said.
"I understand that" he said "but what is the answer? Could it be that he's marked for a labor camp?"
She searched his face as if he knew the answer.

He just could not grasp the idea of love at this point in the book. I thought it was so interesting, so sad and so well written!


Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
I also thought the author did an artful job developing Jun Do's character. It seems to me a person would have to be incredibly strong to change and grow in such a repressive and cruel environment.

In the midst of all of the brutality in this book, there are some comic elements. What did you think about those moments--the episode at the Senator's Texas ranch or the ludicrous banality of the official communiques.


Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
Did this book change your perspective about North Korea? I've always thought of North Korea as a really terrible place where citizens starve, have no rights, and can easily end up in a prison or face death for no real reason. That being said, I thought the author did a fantastic job of filling in the details that truly brought these people's lives into focus. For instance, references and situations that involved people being hungry and what they ate were described in ways that really made an impact on me. I moved from thinking about Korea as a bad place to thinking about the individuals and the terrible lives they live.


Katherine | 36 comments I agree that this book helped me to understand better what someone living in North Korea's daily life might be like. I was especially struck by the lack of stability in the characters lives. At any moment, they could be thrown into prison, picked up for a work detail, or tortured because of someone they knew. Does anyone know how the author was able to write with so much detail? How accurate is the information in his book? Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book but I had trouble getting through the torture/prison descriptions.


Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
From what I've read, the author made just one visit to North Korea, and the trip was very tightly controlled by the North Korean government. Here are a couple of links with interviews where he talks some about his visit; you may have to just cut and paste the links into your browser.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/boo...

http://thediplomat.com/2013/04/pulitz...

http://shelf-life.ew.com/2012/08/22/a...

It sounds to me like Adam Johnson certainly did extensive research, but there may not be specific evidence to support every incident, observation, etc. in the book.

I felt like he did capture the essence of a brutal, totalitarian regime. I agree with you that the prison/torture sequences were very hard to read, and that is actually why I gave this book 4 stars rather than 5.Perhaps it is unfair to downgrade the book because the author painted such a vivid picture, but it made parts of the book hard for me to read.


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