The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)


An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Sonfollows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.


I rarely ready the synopsis before starting a book. I have read it at some point, but I download a lot of books so by the time I get around to reading it I don't remember what it is about. I started this book and thought oh North Korea, I can't wait to read more. I find the subject matter very interesting. Ever since I read Nothing to Envy I've been interested in learning more about the country. This book, even though there were things in it to help indicate it was set in that country, could have been set anywhere. It was an American book and if you took out the announcements and such it could have been set there. The characters seemed American, the way the spoke and acted and such, not North Korean. I kept having to remind myself that this book was set there. 

We read this book for my book club and it was interesting to hear their opinions of it. Another lady there had read the other book on North Korea like I had and she disliked this book as much as I did. For everyone else this was their first glimpse of North Korea and they enjoyed it much more. Didn't love it, but they felt it was more info on North Korea and what it is like to live there than we did.

This book gets pretty ridiculous pretty quickly. By the end it is just this huge farce and just annoyed me. The first half of the book I found pretty boring and the main character just switches up what he is doing a lot. The second half I enjoyed a lot more, but I still didn't love it. I did think the interrogators sections were interesting, and I liked the announcements throughout, but I really disliked the main characters sections.  He is in love with Sun Moon for no good reason, he has her tattooed on his chest and saw one of her movies. I never really understood why he never defected as he didn't have anyone to think about. Then the end **spoilers ahead** was so stupid! He risks quite a lot to get Sun Moon out of the country so nothing will happen to her because he loves her so much when in reality she is probably one of the best off people in the country besides the dear leader! The dear leader loves her and will do anything she says, so Jun Do helps her escape and causes tons of people to suffer and die because of it and why? So that she doesn't live a life of luxury in North Korea? If he wanted to help people he should help people who actually need it, not get people killed for someone who doesn't even need his help. It was frustrating and I just really didn't like his character.

Overall I don't understand all of the high praise for this book. It was an American writing about America, or wait it is supposed to be North Korea (but is not written so it comes off that way). It was just not a good story and just really ridiculous and boring at the same time.



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