Johnson, Adam: The Orphan Master’s Son* (2012)
* Winner of 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Discussion: Thursday, November 12, 2015, 7:00-8:30 pm. Location at the home of Carole Beauclerk, 1500 SW Park Ave in Portland, 503-780-2722. On-street parking in downtown Portland is free beginning at 7:00 pm. Upon arrival, scroll up or down to Beauclerk (check the code, which should be 014) and identify yourself as a Book Club participant to be buzzed in. Then turn right into the building’s lobby and take an immediate left into the community room. Feel free to bring snacks to share.
Review: © Booklist: Pak Jun Do lives with his father at a North Korean work camp for orphans. In a nation in which every citizen serves the state, orphans routinely get the most dangerous jobs. So it is for Jun Do, who becomes a tunnel soldier, trained to fight in complete darkness in the tunnels beneath the DMZ. But he is reassigned as a kidnapper, snatching Japanese citizens with special skills, such as a particular opera singer or sushi chef. Failure as a kidnapper could lead directly to the prison mines. But in Johnson’s fantastical, careening tale, Jun Do manages to impersonate Commander Ga, the country’s greatest military hero, rival of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and husband of Sun Moon, North Korea’s only movie star. Informed by extensive research and travel to perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, Johnson has created a remarkable novel that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief. As Jun Do, speaking as Ga, puts it, people have been trained to accept any reality presented to them. Johnson winningly employs different voices, with the propagandizing national radio station serving as a mad Greek chorus. Descriptions of everyday privations and barbarities are matter of fact, and Jun Do’s love for Sun Moon reads like a fairy tale. Part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and part romance, The Orphan Master’s Son is a triumph on every level.