I am participating in several reading challenges, one being the 100 Bestsellers List. Here’s my review for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.
This post contains spoilers.
The Orphan Master’s Son was an extremely difficult book to read in many ways. The book is divided into two distinct chapters. In Chapter One we meet Pak Jun Do, the Orphan Master’s son, who named himself after a Korean Martyr heralded for his loyalty, and thus foreshadows the ending of the novel. From Pak Jun Do’s early childhood well into adulthood, his journey felt disjointed, with jumps in time and location. We learn what life is like in present-day North Korea – the hardships, the loss of personal will, the disinformation, and the need for blind adherence to the rule of “Our Dear Leader.” In Chapter Two, Pak Jun Do assumes the life of legendary Commander Ga, who is married to the renowned actress Sun Moon and father of their two children. Also in Chapter Two we are introduced to a “soft-torture” Interrogator of Division 42, the interrogation headquarters where enemies of the state are tortured for confessions. Throughout this chapter, the story alternates between the Interrogator’s personal and professional life – including his interrogation of “Commander Ga” – and the flashbacks of Pak Jun Do’s life as Commander Ga.
I almost didn’t finish reading the book due to Chapter One. I didn’t like the voice of Pak Jun Do and found the time jumps disorienting. More than that, though, I felt like I was reading a dystopian novel of life on some distant planet. Surely this could not be taking place on Planet Earth?