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The Orphan Master's Son
Cover of The Orphan Master's Son
The Orphan Master's Son
A Novel
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The Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times betselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship. “Imagine Charles Dickens paying...
The Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times betselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship. “Imagine Charles Dickens paying...
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Description-

  • The Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times betselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship.
    “Imagine Charles Dickens paying a visit to Pyongyang, and you see the canvas on which [Adam] Johnson is painting here.”—The Washington Post
    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 North Korean 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 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.”
    Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.
    FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD • WINNER OF THE DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE
    Named ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by more than a dozen publications, including The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle
    Praise for The Orphan Masters Son

    “An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.”—Pulitzer Prize citation
    “Mr. Johnson has written a daring and remarkable novel, a novel that not only opens a frightening window on the mysterious kingdom of North Korea, but one that also excavates the very meaning of love and sacrifice.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
    “Rich with a sense of discovery . . . The Orphan Master’s Son has an early lead on novel of [the year].”—The Daily Beast
    “This is a novel worth getting excited about.”The Washington Post
    “[A] ripping piece of fiction that is also an astute commentary on the nature of freedom, sacrifice, and glory.”Elle

 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    JUN DO'S mother was a singer. That was all Jun Do's father, the Orphan Master, would say about her. The Orphan Master kept a photograph of a woman in his small room at Long Tomorrows. She was quite lovely-eyes large and sideways looking, lips pursed with an unspoken word. Since beautiful women in the provinces get shipped to Pyongyang, that's certainly what had happened to his mother. The real proof of this was the Orphan Master himself. At night, he'd drink, and from the barracks, the orphans would hear him weeping and lamenting, striking half-heard bargains with the woman in the photograph. Only Jun Do was allowed to comfort him, to finally take the bottle from his hands.As the oldest boy at Long Tomorrows, Jun Do had responsibilities- portioning the food, assigning bunks, renaming the new boys from the list of the 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution. Even so, the Orphan Master was serious about showing no favoritism to his son, the only boy at Long Tomorrows who wasn't an orphan. When the rabbit warren was dirty, it was Jun Do who spent the night locked in it. When boys wet their bunks, it was Jun Do who chipped the frozen piss off the floor. Jun Do didn't brag to the other boys that he was the son of the Orphan Master, rather than some kid dropped off by parents on their way to a 9-27 camp. If someone wanted to figure it out, it was pretty obvious- Jun Do had been there before all of them, and the reason he'd never been adopted was because his father would never let someone take his only son. And it made sense that after his mother was stolen to Pyongyang, his father had applied for the one position that would allow him to both earn a living and watch over his son.

    The surest evidence that the woman in the photo was Jun Do's mother was the unrelenting way the Orphan Master singled him out for punishment. It could only mean that in Jun Do's face, the Orphan Master saw the woman in the picture, a daily reminder of the eternal hurt he felt from losing her. Only a father in that kind of pain could take a boy's shoes in winter. Only a true father, flesh and bone, could burn a son with the smoking end of a coal shovel.

    Occasionally, a factory would adopt a group of kids, and in the spring, men with Chinese accents would come to make their picks. Other than that, anyone who could feed the boys and provide a bottle for the Orphan Master could have them for the day. In summer they filled sandbags and in winter they used metal bars to break sheets of ice from the docks. On the machining floors, for bowls of cold chap chai, they would shovel the coils of oily metal that sprayed from the industrial lathes. The railyard fed them best, though, spicy yukejang. One time, shoveling out boxcars, they swept up a powder that looked like salt. It wasn't until they started sweating that they turned red, their hands and faces, their teeth. The train had been filled with chemicals for the paint factory. For weeks, they were red.

    And then in the year Juche 85, the floods came. Three weeks of rain, yet the loudspeakers said nothing of terraces collapsing, earth dams giving, villages cascading into one another. The Army was busy trying to save the Sungli 58 factory from the rising water, so the Long Tomorrows boys were given ropes and long-handled gaffs to try to snare people from the Chongjin River before they were washed into the harbor. The water was a roil of timber, petroleum tanks, and latrine barrels. A tractor tire turned in the water, a Soviet refrigerator. They heard the deep booms of boxcars tumbling along the river bottom. The canopy of a troop carrier spun past, a screaming family clinging to it. Then a young woman rose from the water, mouth wide but silent, and...

About the Author-

  • Adam Johnson is the author of Fortune Smiles, winner of the National Book Award and the Story Prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and The Orphan Master's Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the California Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Johnson's other awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers' Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Stegner Fellowship; he was also a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award. His previous books are Emporium, a short story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us. Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 24, 2011
    Johnson’s novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an American writer has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. While oppressive propaganda echoes throughout, the tone never slides into caricature; if anything, the story unfolds with astounding empathy for those living in constant fear of imprisonment—or worse—but who manage to maintain their humanity against all odds. The book traces the journey of Jun Do, who for years lives according to the violent dictates of the state, as a tunnel expert who can fight in the dark, a kidnapper, radio operator, tenuous hero, and foreign dignitary before eventually taking his fate into his own hands. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, a government interrogator, who tortures innocent citizens on a daily basis, remembers his own childhood and the way in which his father explained the inexplicable: “...we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.” In this moment and a thousand others like it, Johnson (Parasites Like Us) juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope.

  • Pulitzer Prize citation

    "An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart."

  • The Wall Street Journal "All of these elements--stylistic panache, technical daring, moral weight and an uncanny sense of the current moment--combine in Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, the single best work of fiction published in 2012. . . . The book's cunning, flair and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word."
  • Zadie Smith, Los Angeles Times "The Orphan Master's Son performs an unusual form of sorcery, taking a frankly cruel and absurd reality and somehow converting it into a humane and believable fiction. It's an epic feat of story-telling. It's thrillingly written, and it's just thrilling period."
  • The Washington Post "A great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction. That's the genius of The Orphan Master's Son. Adam Johnson has taken the papier-mâché creation that is North Korea and turned it into a real and riveting place that readers will find unforgettable. This is a novel worth getting excited about, one which more than delivers on its pre-publication buzz... I haven't liked a new novel this much in years, and I want to share the simple pleasure of reading the book. But I also think it's an instructive lesson in how to paint a fictional world against a background of fact: The secret is research...It's this process of re-imagination that makes the fictional locale so real and gives the novel an impact you could never achieve with a thousand newspaper stories. Johnson has painted in indelible colors the nightmare of Kim's North Korea. When English readers want to understand what it was about -- how people lived and died inside a cult of personality that committed unspeakable crimes against its citizens -- I hope they will turn to this carefully documented story. The happy surprise is that they will find it such a page turner."
  • Wall Street Journal "Adam Johnson's remarkable novel The Orphan Master's Son is set in North Korea, an entire nation that has conformed to the fictions spun by a dictator and his inner circle...Mr. Johnson is a wonderfully flexible writer who can pivot in a matter of lines from absurdity to atrocity...We don't know what's really going on in that strange place, but a disquieting glimpse suggesting what it must be like can be found in this brilliant and timely novel."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "A harrowing, clever, incomparable riff on life in Kim Jong Il's North Korea"
  • The Daily Beast "Magnificently accomplished...Part thriller, part coming-of-age novel, part romance, The Orphan Master's Son is made sturdy by research...but what makes it so absorbing isn't its documentary realism but the dark flight of the author's imagination...rich with a sense of discovery...The year is young, but The Orphan Master's Son has an early lead on novel of 2012"
  • National Geographic Traveler "Providing a rare glimpse into one of the world's least known countries, Adam Johnson weaves a tale of hardship, romance, and redemption in North Korea in The Orphan Master's Son."
  • The Huffington Post, 10 Best January Must-Reads "An incredibly vivid page-turner of a novel...Romance, coming-of-age tale, adventure and thriller all in one, this book is singular and not to be missed."
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "The death of Kim Jong Il couldn't have come at a better time for novelist Adam Johnson. The Orphan Master's Son is a richly textured political thriller about the hidden world of North Korea with all of its misery, violence and defiant acts of love under impossible circumstances. Stunning and evocative imagery abounds on every page."
  • Newsday "Startling...Johnson's carefully layered story feels authentic...[He] writes light-footed prose, barely allowing harrowing glimpses of atrocity to register before accelerating onward. He resists the temptation to turn his subject matter into comic fodder, but never ignores the absurdity, provoking laughter with jagged edges that tends to die in your throat."
  • Publisher's Weekly, (STARRED REVIEW ) "Johnson's novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible:

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