Length: 464 pages
About: North Korean politcial satire
Style: 1st and 3rd person
Where: North Korea and japan
When: 1980s -2000s
Citizens of our beloved Democratic Republic of North Korea! Imagine the life of an orphan boy plucked from nowhere to be trained as a tunnel assassin, a kidnapper, a spy.
He has no father but the State, no sweetheart but Sun Moon, the greatest opera star who ever lived, whose face is tattooed on his chest.
Imagine he lives in our very own country, a model of exemplary Communism. A nation that is the envy of the world, especially the Americans. Where the only stories people need to hear are those
blasting out of loudspeakers to the glory of our dear Leader, Kim Jong il.
Dry your eyes now, comrades! Prepare to hear the Greatest North Korean Love Story Ever Told.
THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON is an iconoclastic work of fiction, part thriller, part coming-of-age story, part love story. Dark, playful and genre-defying, its searing depiction of one man's epic
journey through the surrealist brutality of North Korea shines a fierce light on the essence of the human condition.
JUN DO'S mother was a singer. That was all Jun Do's father, the Orphan Master, would say about her. The Orphan Master kept a photograph of a woman in his small room at Long Tomorrows. She was
quite lovely-eyes large and sideways looking, lips pursed with an unspoken word. Since beautiful women in the provinces get shipped to Pyongyang, that's certainly what had happened to his mother. The
real proof of this was the Orphan Master himself. At night, he'd drink, and from the barracks, the orphans would hear him weeping and lamenting, striking half-heard bargains with the woman in the
photograph. Only Jun Do was allowed to comfort him, to finally take the bottle from his hands.
As well as a heartbreaking insight into the unreality of life north of the 38th parallel, Adam Johnson has produced a brilliant exploration of the act of fiction-making and the importance of
narratives, both public and private. Employing a range of registers from the intimate first person to the disembodied bullshit that blares constantly from Kim’s loudspeakers, he seems to question the
very act of storytelling, intimating that the inventions of the novelist might be in some way analogous to the falsehoods of the Dear Leader. On this last point he can rest assured: his brilliant
novel singularly confounds any such suggestions.
David Annand, The Telegraph, 16th April 2013
Not so good:
The second part of the book is a wild romp through Pyongyang, full of audacity, but more or less conforming to stereotypes about North Korea. As a journalist who has reported extensively on the
country, I fear that some readers might have a hard time figuring out where fact leaves off and fiction begins. People are inclined to believe whatever outrage they read about North
Korea, but bad as it is, I've not heard of political prisoners being lobotomised with nails inserted over the eyeball or with electrical charges.
Barbara Demick, the Guardian, 17th February 2012
About the author
Born July 12, 1967 Johnson was born in South Dakota and raised in Arizona. He earned a BA in Journalism from Arizona State University in 1992; a MFA from the writing program at McNeese State
University, where he was a classmate of the writer Neil Connelly, in 1996; and a PhD in English from Florida State University in 2000. Johnson is currently a San Francisco writer and associate
professor in creative writing at Stanford University. He founded the Stanford Graphic Novel Project and was named "one of the nation's most influential and imaginative college professors" by Playboy