The Orphan Master’s Son

Pak Jun Do knows he’s special. He knows he will one day escape.

I have been waiting ages to sink my teeth into this sprawling, epic novel. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is an incredible story – heartwarming/heartbreaking, it is a gripping and thrilling read with many twists and turns, vibrant characters and stunning prose. Set in the secretive and terrifying military state of North Korea, this is not a book to be missed. As an aside, I think it will make an incredible film or mini-series, so I will hold out hope that it will one day come true!

The Orphan Master’s Son was the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, and within three chapters it’s not hard to see why – the writing is stunning, you are swept up in Jun Do’s voice and inimitable courage as he is taken from his lowly life in an orphanage to embark on adventures he had never considered – kidnapping Japanese citizens for them to teach in spy schools, hauling up prawns for the Dear Leader, Kim John Il and working as a signal boy on a boat, acting as an ambassador on a trip to America. Jun Do finds every new experience slowly changes his attitudes towards his country.

In the second part of the novel, dire situations sees Jun Do landed in a work camp, where he fights for his freedom and assumes the identity of Commander Ga, a high ranking military officer who has fallen out of favour with Kim Jong Il. Jun Do wins back the trust of Kim Jong Il and the heart of Ga’s wife, the stunning actress Sun Moon. Because Jun Do loves her, he devises a plot so she and her two children can defect and live in the USA, and so he struggles to put events in motion to keep Sun Moon safe and change their lives.

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I thoroughly loved this book. It was life- and genre-spanning, which made for a dynamic and incredible read, one that traversed genres from a coming-of-age story to a romance, a dystopian thriller, political commentary, horror, and farce. The writing is amazing and sucks you right in – you feel hope and admiration for Jun Do, and a mix of terror and disbelief at life inside North Korea. Although it is fiction and the author himself said he embellished and replaced some aspects of life with fictional ideas (harvesting blood, for example, is fiction), it is meticulously researched, and some parts of the book are inspired by true accounts of defectors and propoganda broadcasts, which makes it quite haunting. While it may not have the most cheerful of endings, it is a poignant novel of true love and sacrifice.

I simply couldn’t put this book down and highly recommend reading this incredible novel!

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