I finished reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson a few days ago and thought it was so brilliant that I really had to write a review on it and that too, on my blog. When I finished reading it, I remember feeling empty and a bit dazed since I was so engrossed into the plot. I felt as if my whole life had turned into a piece of blank slate. I am the kind of person who is really picky about what I read (because I don’t want to regret buying a book I don’t enjoy). I am also the kind whom after reading a horrible book would feel like raging against the world, rip the damned thing into shreds and hurl it at the author’s face. In short, very few writing styles suit my preference but The Orphan Master’s Son just blew me away not to mention that I struggled with the prose at first instance. Before encountering this masterpiece, I was totally in love with Three Souls by Janie Chang but then this book came along and changed everything. Not that I don’t like Three Souls anymore, I still do but The Orphan Master’s Son – a tad bit more.
So getting on to my main topic, if you haven’t read it or heard about it yet, The Orphan Master’s Son is a novel that will leave you desolate and feeling shocked and heartbroken. If you’re reading with the same inquisitiveness and compassion for the protagonist that I had, you will feel for him throughout the story. I love the author’s unique way of dividing the story into halves so as to show us two very different settings that took place and how the protagonist transitions into the person that he will become. To make it short and refrain from revealing the whole story, the summary of this book is that it’s about a North Korean orphan called Jun Do who believes himself to be the Orphan Master’s son though in truth, he isn’t and he realizes that eventually. He goes on to have many adventures in search for his mom and in search of his own identity, who he really is in this world while working for his country’s regime at the same time. A tragic circumstance changes his life and from there, I’ll leave it for the readers to wonder…
The pace of this book is quite easy to follow. but it took me one month to finish due to my year-end exams and also because some passages rather confused me. I had to reread them again in order to understand what was going on.
Apart from that, this book really opened my eyes to what life must be like in North Korea though I have read many critics and reviews claiming that it is an exaggerated representation of North Korea, caricatured and heavily biased and I agree to some extent. In spite of that, it showed me the brutality of this country’s Communist regime which has taken the lives of so many innocent civilians and causing fear, distrust and even contention among families and friends. It showed me the way it has devoured every sense of their sanity and stripped away the freedom to live their lives based on their own choice and not upon the dictates of a savage, cold and ruthless government. In their regime, there is no true word for freedom except when it comes from the state, the government. Why? Because for them, the State is the bastion of all freedom and the State is no other than the dictator. As the author himself mentioned in one of his interviews, all citizens (of North Korea) are somehow like orphans with no real permanent identity. They all belong to the State who controls every aspects of their lives. Thus, the true Orphan Master is no other than the Dictator himself. Pretty sinister but an all-too deep and coherent interpretation. It perfectly explains the whole meaning of the story
To sum it up, Jun Do is the epitome of every man – every citizen who has suffered, lost a kin, friend and their life to the regime. He is their hero and the harbinger of humanity who has shown that even when terror, injustice and despair plagues a society, a nation, there can still be a glimmer of hope and that it is up to the individual to build that change. It tells also that sacrifice is the biggest love, the greatest gift you can ever give to a person. This book does not only have a thrilling and unpredictable plot, it also teaches you lessons on love, identity, sacrifice and hardships while at the same time, opening the doors to a nation so many people in this planet do not know about.