I’m always a bit skeptical about “epic” novels. They’re usually not so epic. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam
Johnson, however, is truly epic. (The fact that it won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013 is probably a bit of a giveaway).
The novel follows Pak Jun Do, a man growing up and living under Kim Jong Il’s rule in North Korea. The son of a missing mother and a father who runs a work camp for orphans, Jun Do is able to transform himself into whatever is required of him – a professional kidnapper, a miner, a sailor — who intentionally has his arm chewed up by a shark to make the story of a missing crew member more believable — a prisoner, a delegate to America, one of the country’s highest ranking generals, a perceived rival to Kim Jong Il and a hero.
It’s a story of intensity – intense poverty, intense violence, and intense craziness. The daily propaganda spread via loudspeakers throughout the country is ridiculous in content, and terrifying in its widespread acceptance.
The detail in this novel is fantastic, as is the writing. The Orphan Master’s Son is about the furthest thing from a light read, but it’s a satisfying read.
Next up: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard.