Discussion of the Orphan Master's Son


In this epic, critically acclaimed tour de force, Adam Johnson provides a riveting portrait of a world rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.


The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle • Financial Times • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • The Plain Dealer • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • Slate • Salon • BookPage • Shelf Awareness

“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.”—The Wall Street Journal 

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 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 Korean 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.”

Praise for The Orphan Master’s 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

“A daring and remarkable novel.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Gripping . . . Deftly blending adventure, surreal comedy and Casablanca-style romance, the novel takes readers on a jolting ride through an Orwellian landscape of dubious identity and dangerous doublespeak.”San Jose Mercury News

“This is a novel worth getting excited about. . . . 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.”The Washington Post

“[A] brilliant and timely novel.”The Wall Street Journal

“Remarkable and heartbreaking . . . To [the] very short list of exceptional novels that also serve a humanitarian purpose The Orphan Master’s Sonmust now be added.”The New Republic

“A triumph of imagination . . . [Grade:] A.”Entertainment Weekly

“A spellbinding saga of subverted identity and an irrepressible love.”Vogue





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  • Rick A.

    Oh yes! That book was a shock to the system. The miracle of why we read books. And he was from Phoenix. That may be even more amazing than the book.

    August 12

  • Nancy L.

    Stephen King gave Orphan Master's Son five stars!

    2 · August 11

    • stephany

      I thought this book outstanding. Yay! I have something in common with Stephen King

      1 · August 11

    • Beatriz P.

      My favorite book last year!

      August 11

  • Nancy L.

    Kevin Thomas's 9-panel illustration of The Orphan Master's Son http://therumpus.net/2013/06/horn-reviews-the-orphan-masters-son/

    July 10

  • Marty

    I could not make the meeting as my transmission gave up on me a couple days ago. But Carolyn I agree with you. I don't understand the kidnapping of Japanese and that made no sense, how would they know a particular person would be on the beach. It was not sufficiently explained. Additionally, why does this author purport to know what a NK "orphan" would think and feel or not feel. I have not yet finished the book, but I find so much improbable. I really wish I knew more about the author because I can't buy into any of his characters with what little I know about it. It almost feels like a fantasy/science fiction piece rather than an attempt to be realistic about what it is like in NK today.

    September 10, 2013

    • Nancy L.

      I tried to focus on the mindset of the characters more than the events in the story. People in the East really do think like these characters do! Granted, this novel is a satire of North Korea, and should not be taken literally, but isn't one of the purposes of art to magnify the ridiculousness of life?

      1 · September 14, 2013

  • Nancy L.

    Thanks to all for your insight!

    September 10, 2013

  • Carolyn G.

    Just because I was one of the few who was not crazy about this book, viewed Sun-Moon as narcissitic and incapable of "true love," never did understand why the NK kidnapped Japanese," found the depiction of the Great Leader and the ending goofy, are these the reasons I did not merit a "Good to see you?"

    September 10, 2013

  • Beatriz P.

    Very good!

    September 10, 2013

  • Wendy

    Auugh, I didn't know the location changed!! I'm sorry, not going to make it down that way! Too far South for me with kids to put to bed etc. Here is the review I wrote on Goodreads: "Dystopian indeed. I couldn’t decide if I loved it or despised it. As David Ebershoff describes it, it’s a love, spy, adventure, coming-of-age, kidnapping, and redemption story. It gives us a glimpse into what life may truly be like in North Korea. For me, it was a story in survival. We all have coping mechanisms and do the most desperate of things if needed to survive. However, we must ask ourselves: at what point in the “stories” you tell yourself and/or others in order to survive in your own mind, soul, and/or your physical situation, do they become your reality?"

    1 · September 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Will be out if town.

    July 2, 2013

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