The Orphan Master’s Son

The_Orphan_Master's_Son_(book_cover)The Orphan Master’s Son
by Adam Johnson
2012/443 pages
rating: 9 /contemp fiction

Once upon a time in North Korea there was a little boy who lived at the orphanage but he wasn’t an orphan.  He lived there because his father was the Master and his mother had disappeared.  In North Korea orphans are almost the equivalent of “untouchables,”  not readily marriageable. employable or valuable at all.  And because of his residence and his mother’s disappearance,  Jun Do, self-named after the great Martyr of Loyalty (something like that) becomes an orphan.

At the age of 14 or so he’s conscripted into a group of “tunnel soldiers” then promoted to an English school and stationed on a fishing boat which is actually a little spy job.  He’s given a chest tattoo of  a Korean star named Sun Moon as an indication that he’s married. Due to some fraud he’s given “hero” status and a job going to the US where he’s misidentified.

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson

This misidentification leads to …. well …  that would be spoiler territory and I’m not going to go there.  Suffice it to say I was totally surprised,  over and over and over.

The book is wonderfully well written – the structure, using various modes of narrative especially stands out as innovative and appropriate.   The plot is page-turning and the main character is totally sympathetic while the others are believable although somewhat out of focus.   In keeping with the pace and tone of the book (mostly bleak and scary) the metaphors are minimal although once in awhile there is an incredible personification of something inanimate,  an animal, a disease or a cave.   There are times when the the atmosphere and events or characters  become  a bit too eerie,  surreal,  and downright fantastical.

Truth Dig Review (in depth):

Salon article  (interesting parallel)

NOTES >>>> (some photos)

2 Responses to The Orphan Master’s Son

  1. Alex says:

    I have heard so many good things about this book and I’m desperate for a chance to read it. However, my next book choice for the group I think would respond best to it isn’t until next July and as they are mostly teachers that is not the time to be asking them to read a book that needs so much thought. As you know, I don’t have much time at the moment to give to personal reading. Is there any way if could justify this as historical fiction😉


  2. I think the only way The Orphan Master’s Son could be historical fiction is if the1990s could be considered historical. It’s very contemporary – but it is also very, very good. When you’re ready to step back into the 21st century try to remember it.


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