Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son - Book Review

   Having living in South Korea for nine years, I've developed a bit of a fascination with North Korea.  I've stood on the other side of the DMZ.  I've looked through a telescope into the North Korean hills.  I've read several history books and followed the news to come out of the mysterious, murky North.
   Nothing has riveted me like Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son.  It might be described as historical fiction, except that the history it describes is present day North Korea.  For one with a moderate knowledge of North Korea and a strong understanding of South Korean culture, this novel has the aura of authenticity.  Johnson has nailed the ethos of North Korea.
   Of course, he had to take some liberties with logic, making one person do far too many things.  However, some such bending of circumstances is often necessary for a cohesive and comprehensive narrative.
   Johnson has delivered a gripping and clear picture of life in North Korea through the lens of a single individual.  The voice alternates among various narrators and even to public service announcements broadcast into ever North Korean home through a nationwide intercom system.  The story deftly weaves humor, drama, suspense, intrigue, politics, love, despair, and hope.
   One of the most compelling lines comes from a supporting character, the high level Minister of Procurement, "No one is safe."  After the recent execution of Kim JeongEun's uncle (Korea's #2 leader), this one line is hauntingly true.
   It won a much deserved Pulitzer Prize in 2013.  I highly recommend it.  But don't start it when you're busy.  You'll want to read in every spare moment.

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