Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Orphan Master's Son

by Adam Johnson

Johnson wrote this book after a visit to North Korea and extensive research on the country, with the intention of relaying the story of a nation built on propaganda. To the North Koreans, it doesn't matter that the foundation is fictitious, "every citizen is forced to become a character whose motivations, desires and fears are dictated by the script." Johnson shares the miserable living conditions, the violence, the torture and the attitudes of the citizens in a way that seems unbelievable, even when you know it is true. 

The story is written in two parts, meeting Jun Do and the confessions of General Ga, however, these two men are so intertwined as to become one. Jun Do's story reflects the life of an average comrade, who works in the mines, conducts diplomatic missions and spends time in the work camps. General Ga realtes the life of the privileged, those who are in the upper ranks of Kim Jong Il's regime. He receives better rations, lives in a mansion in a secluded neighborhood and is elevated above the mainstream.

The information presented in The Orphan Master's Son was interesting, astonishing and horrifying all at once. The nature of this story was so dystopian that it wasn't a book I was naturally drawn to reading even though it was well written. Perhaps if I hadn't just been on a spell of reading several in that genre, I might have digested this account better. This is a lengthy story and gets confusing at times, particularly in the second half. I also got a bit tired of the interrogator's narrative. But, if you are interested in learning about North Korea and don't want a history, I would recommend this book. I realize even though this is fiction, much of it is a reality for those living in NK. My life is just so far removed from this lifestyle I can't imagine how people would succumb to that totalitarian regime.


  1. Hey Beth - I read a pretty interesting book this past week....The Lady Cyclists Guide to Kashgar. Do you want to borrow it to review? I enjoyed it - a little bit of historical fiction I would say. I could bring it to church for you to pick up.