The Orphan Master’s Son

5/5 stars

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson


The Orphan Master’s Son is a heavy book . . . and I don’t mean it weighs a lot on a scale. I mean it weighs a lot on my mind.

I’ve long been fascinated with The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…the most secretive country in the world. The stories that make it out about life in North Korea are the eyebrow-raising, “Really . . . you can’t be serious” kind. There is so little to find about what it’s like to live there because no one knows—literally. Any foreigner allowed into the country is escorted by handlers that are trained to give you a show. Locals are forbidden to speak to outsiders. North Korean’s never leave. It’s closed and locked up tight.

So, when I discovered a book that claimed to tell a story about North Korea, I pounced. I knew going into it The Orphan Master’s Son is probably not the typical “happy-ending” book I usually enjoy, but it was a change from the ordinary that I welcomed. Now that I’ve read it, I’m happy to report that it was worth the risk. I was right to expect a sad ending, but the journey to the close was epic. I may not have been grinning from ear to ear at the close, but I do feel satisfied. I got what I wanted . . . a picture of North Korea coupled with a fantastic literary experience.

I’ll leave it to you to read the description of the story. The book cover tells it right on. I felt the love, joy, pain, and sorrow of the characters and was very deeply moved by the writing. The prose was a bit awkward to get comfortable with, but I eventually understood the author’s writing style was part of the story. He wrote the way he did at a tool to help the reader understand the mindset of the characters. I wouldn’t want it to be written any other way.

This quote from an interview with the author sums up nicely what you’ll find past the front cover:

“The novel is a coming-of-age story, a spy story, and love story. There’s an adventure-at-sea tale, a kidnapping tale, and redemption story. You move through a number of tones, including high tragedy, the ironic, the satirical, the tender, and the just plain terrifying.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you can handle some language, a lot of grit, and a broken heart, reading The Orphan Master’s Son will leave you with an appreciation for the good things in your life and a realization that the bad things really aren’t so bad.

This is a book for adults. I won’t like my kids near it until they are 17.

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