The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, Review: Thought-provoking

Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son is one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking novels I have read. Read on for my full review.

The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson - Audiobook Review

The Orphan Master’s Son Synopsis

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He 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.”

In this epic, critically acclaimed tour de force, Adam Johnson provides a riveting portrait of a world rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. 

Genre: Literature, Action-Adventure, Audio, Mystery, Thriller, Drama, Romance

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The New York Times has described The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson as “a daring and remarkable novel”. The New Republic goes one step further saying,

“Remarkable and heartbreaking . . . To very short list of exceptional novels that also serve a humanitarian purpose The Orphan Master’s Son must now be added.”

Rarely can a title live up to such high praise but this one does just that.

I purchased my own copy after reading Nancy O’s review and was thoroughly engrossed listening to the audiobook when I received the invitation to be part of this book tour.

It is hard to say much about the characters and what happens to them in this novel without giving too much of the brilliance away, so I will focus on the effect the book had on me.

The Orphan Masters Son - Adam Johnson - Audiobook

Intelligent & thought-provoking

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking novels I have read.

Adam Johnson has managed to write an entertaining story that exposes the absurd while maintaining the deepest respect for the people involved. The reader is kept on the edge of their seat, on an emotional roller coaster – mixing hilarity with heartbreak, the disturbing with the uplifting. With this novel Adam Johnson shines a light on the best and worst of human nature.

Although the subject matter may be too shocking for some tastes, I think this book should be required reading. Why? Because it makes you question paradigms. Is information power or ignorance bliss?

“What happened?”, Buik asked him.

“I told her the truth about something,” Ga answered.

“You’ve got to stop doing that,” Buik said, “it’s bad for people’s health.”

Audiobook narration

The audiobook version of The Orphan Master’s Son is narrated by a talented cast, the author himself along with Tim Kang, Josiah D Lee and James Kyson Lee, was a joy to listen to (an audio sample). For me, the timing and accents of the cast and matter of fact delivery of passages such as that quoted above really enhanced the story experience.

In this age where commercialism abounds, it is heartening to see such a meaningful piece of literature on the bestseller lists. I cannot recommend The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson more highly, it is truly moving.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

Get your copy of The Orphan Master’s Son from:

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Related Reads:
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun  /  Please Do Not Disturb by Robert Glancy  /  Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu  /  Literature by Guillermo Stitch  /  A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson

* It was no surprise to me when this title went on to win The Pulitzer Prize 2013. The Pulitzer judges and I do not always agree though… For example, see my review of the much-lauded Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

About the Author, Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Tin House, Granta, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories. His other works include Emporium and Fortune Smilesshort-story collections, and the novel Parasites Like Us. He lives in San Francisco.

Source: Youtube – Random House