Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2013
An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
©2011 Adam Johnson (P)2011 Random House Audio
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Critic reviews

Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
“An addictive novel of daring ingenuity, a study of sacrifice and freedom in a citizen-eating dynasty, and a timely reminder that anonymous victims of oppression are also human beings who love - The Orphan Master’s Son is a brave and impressive book.” (David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet)
“I’ve never read anything like it. This is truly an amazing reading experience, a tremendous accomplishment. I could spend days talking about how much I love this book. It sounds like overstatement, but no. The Orphan Master’s Son is a masterpiece.” (Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children)
“Adam Johnson has pulled off literary alchemy, first by setting his novel in North Korea, a country that few of us can imagine, then by producing such compelling characters, whose lives unfold at breakneck speed. I was engrossed right to the amazing conclusion. The result is pure gold, a terrific novel.” (Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Marianna on 05-12-12

Incredible beginning, less convincing second part

The first part of the book is as incredibly captivating depiction of the lives of the main characters in the isolated, oppressive country of North Korea. The story is beautifully written, at times almost poetically, at times with such authenticity of the portrayal of the most intimate thoughts and feelings, that I found it breathtaking and could not stop listen often late to the night. What in my opinion also adds a deeper dimension to the first part of the book is that at times it is based on real historical events, such as the period of famine or the abductions of several people from Japan. These events, and the way they formed people are described with such accuracy, and so realistically, that it provided a very powerful glimpse into the lives of people in this country, which so little is known about.

However, in the second part, the books becomes a lot more surreal. The main character begins to impersonate a well known North Korean war hero, part of the story begins to take place at a very 'high-tech' torture units, with detailed descriptions of torture equipment and techniques, which do not sound very believable, the late leader, Kim Jong-il is depicted almost as a comical caricature.

Personally, I was not very fond of this switch, from a very genuine and authentic, to almost a science-fiction style. I found it a lot less enjoyable form the literary style point of view, as well as confusing, as it almost had a feel of 'pro-US propaganda' and I fear that it may be misleading for some readers.

Still, the first part of the book was superb, and the book was definitely well worth the listen just for that!

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By clive on 30-06-12

Brilliant story about a brutal place

One of the best books I've heard. I'd listened to 'Nothing to Envy' about North Korea but this book is even better at giving an insight into this dystopian country. It reminded me of the bits of 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell which are set in the future, though this is terrifyingly present. It's in two parts - the first part immerses you in the life of the orphan master's son and is beautiful and bleak, plotted at breakneck speed like 'The History of Tom Jones' set in 1984. The second part is more fantastical and unlikely, reading like a thriller and a love story and utterly compelling. I think if you like David Mitchell, or 'The Sisters Brothers' or 'Nothing to Envy' then you'll like this. Highly recommended- a book I couldnt stop listening to.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Lisa on 27-01-12

The most compelling listen I've ever owned

I've been an Audible subscriber since the beginning (1999). There are over 500 books in my library. This is the most compelling story I have ever heard. I seriously couldn't turn it off.

To say it is the journey of one man through the "Looking Glass" that is the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, doesn't do it justice. Johnson draws characters that make you feel the oppression of life under that regime. He's obviously done serious study of the North Korean people and culture. The people of this book will live in my thoughts for a long time.

And Johnson addresses this tale with a light touch. It's not maudlin or morose. But it is haunting.

The performances by the readers is equal to this work. The producers uses a very interesting switch at a critical point in this story that brings everything into focus. No spoiler - you'll know it when it happens. But the production makes this recording nothing short of brilliant.

Don't bother to hold the voting this year. I can tell you who wins the Audie.

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69 of 75 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Darwin8u on 05-08-13

My favorite novel set primarily in North Korea

One of my favorite novels of the year, and definitely my favorite novel set primarily in North Korea (I've read four others, or five). This is one of those contemporary novels like 'The Son' by Meyer or Carey's 'True History of the Kelly Gang', or Udall's 'The Lonely Polygamist' that delivers almost everything I search for in a novel: originality, amazing prose, fantastic characters, meaning. These novels might not be 'War and Peace' or 'Moby-Dick' but they definitely show that fiction isn't even close to being dead.

Johnson deftly examines such themes as: propaganda, stories, the concept of self and identity, totalitarianism, love, memory, etc., in a novel way. This book deserves a spot among the other great totalitarian prison books (Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon', Orwell's '1984', and Nabokov's 'Invitation to a Beheading'. Even though only a part of this novel is actually set in a prison, I'd argue that all totalitarian literature is **at heart** just a sub-genre of prison literature. An amazing novel. Don't miss it.

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49 of 54 people found this review helpful

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