The Orphan Master's Son
by Adam Johnson
Random House 2012
Pak Jun Do grows up in an orphanage in North Korea. The man he believes to be his father runs the place and Jun Do keeps the boys in line. Later he become a tunnel rat, making clandestine trips to both Japan and South Korea, and later is included on a diplomatic visit to Texas. I found this a fascinating look at the culture of North Korea, one I knew very little about. Propaganda is a big part of the narrative and sometimes loudspeaker announcements are used to fill in back story. There are time jumps and changes in the characters that tell the story that can be confusing, but to me that added to the sense of mystery and wonder of the story. In some ways, this is a fairy tale of what a simple man can accomplish.
The Washington Post review said “A great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction. That’s the genius of The Orphan Master’s Son." and I agree completely. The things that happen in this novel are sometimes completely unbelievable, but somehow you just accept them as part of Jun Do's life. Despair, starvation, and brutal torture are also a part of his story, but in the long run, I found it an uplifting book.