Hey Read This… Citizens! The Best Love Story of Most Greatest Country on Earth!

Posted on February 20, 2012

The Orphan Master’s Son

By Adam Johnson

In the end it’s just a love story.

Pak Jun Do is a highly trained North Korean operative. He is an expert at taekwondo, specializes in kidnapping Japanese and spends his time translating English transmissions on a boat in the middle of the South China Sea. Although he never marries, he falls in love with the nation’s actress, a beautiful woman by the name of Sun Moon. And he’s willing to give up everything in order to be with her and make sure she’s safe.

North Korea is a very weird country. ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ is a weird book. It is divided up into two parts. The first half involves Jun Do out on a boat, picking up translations. At one point his ship is boarded by Americans. Tensions running high, his comrade, Sun, pulls a knife on the Yanks.

And here begins one of the central themes of this book. They lie about what exactly happens. When they get back to land, they tell a high tale of capitalist imperialism and Sun taking on the whole American Navy. He is promoted to a national hero.

The North Korean regime is built upon these lies. They come out of real events, but are always twisted to benefit them.

Which brings us to our second half and where the book gets weird. In the first half, it is told almost exclusively in the 3rd person. In the second? Sometimes in the 1st person (a North Korean interrogator). Sometimes in 3rd person (as a broadcast of the official propaganda machine). And then sometimes in regular old limited 3rd person. It is jarring. You how after each quarter in the NFL they switch directions? And they come back and you’re like, something’s not right here. It’s like that. But every chapter.

On top of that he’s telling the narrative in flashback form. It also is difficult to keep track of. One of the unfortunate things about it is that you know how the story is going to end. I never see the end coming. Ever. But I knew for about 100 pages. And it wasn’t because I was some sort of detective or something. Johnson explicitly lays out the plan that is executed 100 pages later. On top of that, the whole thing gets a bit too meta for me.

But despite this, we have a very unique novel on our hands. We have unreliable narrators and interesting tinkering with time. What really stands out is the country of North Korea. The whole thing is just brutal. This novel is not for the faint of stomach. It pulls no punches in describing a country that is well known for its human rights abuses.

If you’re in the mood for a love story that blossoms because of its terrifying background, “The Orphan Master’s Son” is a wonderful read. It can get confusing, but I think that’s all part of it. Look for cameos of the Dear Leader. And don’t get too attached to any characters.


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