The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master's Son

A Novel

Book - 2012
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The Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times betselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world's most mysterious dictatorship.

"Imagine Charles Dickens paying a visit to Pyongyang, and you see the canvas on which [Adam] Johnson is painting here." --The Washington Post

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother--a singer "stolen" to Pyongyang--and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the North Korean state soon recognize the boy's loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself "a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world," Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his 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.


Named ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by more than a dozen publications, including The Washington Post * Entertainment Weekly * The Wall Street Journal * Los Angeles Times * San Francisco Chronicle

Praise for The Orphan Master ' s Son

"An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart." --Pulitzer Prize citation

"Mr. Johnson has written a daring and remarkable novel, a novel that not only opens a frightening window on the mysterious kingdom of North Korea, but one that also excavates the very meaning of love and sacrifice." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Rich with a sense of discovery . . . The Orphan Master's Son has an early lead on novel of [the year]." --The Daily Beast

"This is a novel worth getting excited about." -- The Washington Post

"[A] ripping piece of fiction that is also an astute commentary on the nature of freedom, sacrifice, and glory." -- Elle

Publisher: New York : Random House, c2012.
ISBN: 9780812992793
Characteristics: 443 p. ;,25 cm.


From the critics

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Nov 21, 2017

This is about Pak Jun Do a boy whose father is an illegal child labor enforcer in North Korea. Pak soon takes on his father's role and rises through the ranks but because of impossible demands from his superiors, he soon becomes enemies with the dictator Kim Jong Il. But then risks it all to be with the woman he loves, an actress. This book didn't really explore some aspects that I was hoping it would, and when I first picked it up I thought it was going to be from the perspective of one of the actual child slaves escaping. The story itself was very well written, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone else.
- @Florence of the Teen Review Board of the Hamilton Public Library

Sep 13, 2017

I recently "tried" to read this book and found it to be poorly written and dreadfully boring not to mention that it was an awful subject. My question is: How did a book like the win the Pulitzer prize? I find that there have been some very obscure books that I picked up and read and really enjoyed and then a prize winning book I can't get through more than 100 pages before putting it down because I just can't plow through it any longer.
I don't recommend this book.

Mar 30, 2017

An unimaginable world, beautifully expressed in words.

Sep 07, 2016

Such a long novel that I had difficulty finding the motivation to finish. Excellent story teller - I just was hoping to find a purpose/direction to the stories. Perhaps I will finish after a mental break.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 03, 2016

In its entirety, The Orphan Master's Son is quite a feat of storytelling. The unraveling! The nuances! Johnson has pieced together details so relevant, so numerous, I imagine I missed so much brilliance. It all fits together so perfectly.

Mar 11, 2016

Ironic and thought provoking. Loved it.

Mar 11, 2016

The novel centers on Pak Jun Do, a North Korean noticed for his talents and loyalty who quickly rises through the ranks to increasingly important roles. It could be called a Bildungsroman since Jun Do's education never stops as he develops a more complex consciousness in each role. Jun Do was the son of the leader of an orphanage/work camp (the Orphan Master of the title) and a singer. His mother's beauty is noticed and she was abducted for an official in Pyongyang. To avoid showing favoritism to his son, the Orphan Master gives him a typical orphan name from the list of Grand Martyrs of the Revolution. Because of this, Jun Do has to continually explain why he isn't an orphan. North Korean stigmas run throughout the novel: orphans (ironic given how many were made because of the government, vicious in its alleged good intentions), dogs, and black & white movies for examples.

The running joke about Jun Do (think John Doe)'s orphan status is only one small part of the humor in the novel. Many examples come from the absurdity of the government and its loyal followers while others come reflect the inability of the North Koreans to fathom what is actually happening around them (such as Jun Do's ignorance about the International Space Station while listening to their communication transmissions). The story follows one improbable episode after another, believable because of the implausible nature of North Korea.

Johnson includes many ghastly events, such as blood harvesting and assembly-line lobotomies. His descriptions are matter-of-fact since there is no need to embellish the horrific practices. The desire for complete control shows in almost every action by government leaders, even in individuals trying to provide a more humane system of torture.

Jun Do realizes there is a better world and never stops striving to improve conditions for those he loves…something that can only be done outside of North Korea. Very highly recommended.

Feb 17, 2016

Yes, this book was sometimes confusing. That very fact reflected for me the chaos that was wreaked on individuals by the blind narcissistic policies of the DRNK leaders. Moral struggles, plot twists, character development: this book has it all.

Feb 16, 2016

Just absolutely heartbreaking, devastating, depressing, and somehow still beautiful. I've always been fascinated with North Korea, but mostly thought of it as kind of harmless and ridiculous. But because of this book (which Johnson researched intensely), I will never think of North Korea again with anything but profound sadness. My soul hurts thinking about those poor trapped people. Damn, this is a powerful book.

annobooks Dec 03, 2015

Several hundred pages in I just had to surrender and give up reading this oppressive novel.

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Jun 19, 2015

katrinalp01 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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Aug 23, 2016

Johnson's narrative portrays his hero as he makes his way through a minefield of corruption and violence, eventually giving his all so that his loved ones might have a better life. VERDICT Readers who enjoy a fast-paced political thriller will welcome this wild ride through the amazingly conflicted world that exists within the heavily guarded confines of North Korea. Highly recommended


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