The Orphan Master’s Son

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The Orphan Master’s Son
by Adam Johnson

I was interested in this book since it was about a country that I don’t know much about, North Korea. Unfortunately, the author tried but doesn’t know as much as he wishes he did and that comes through. I couldn’t trust what I was reading most of the time since what he was describing could have been rumors instead of based on stories told from defectors. I think this story would have been more useful if it wasn’t set in an actual country, but a fictional one that readers could understand was like North Korea.

My main problem with the book was the lack of believable characters. The main character is never really fleshed out. He just has things happen to him, but his thought process isn’t really shared with the reader. The same thing happens with some other characters in the book. Actually, I felt like I did get to know an interrogator that appears halfway through the book in how he relates to his family. I found it odd that I felt more for one of the minor characters compared to the main one in the story. I also found it silly to have Kim Jong Il as a character in the story.

The characters seemed to be there just to drive the plot, which gets more and more outlandish. It starts off with the main character living in an orphanage, describing the horrors of what happens to the orphans. Then it skips to him being already trained as a kidnapper. I thought that would have been interesting to read about, but instead I got to spend many pages reading about him transcribing on a boat. It was the long boring passages like that where I wanted to give up, but forced myself to continue. Halfway through, the story changes. I had hope! I actually enjoyed the propaganda chapters about what the citizens would hear on the loudspeakers. It was all so ridiculous and gave more insight into North Korea than anything else that I read, especially when compared to what was actually happening in the plot. Still, the second half of the book lost me with boredom again. As it went forward and backward in time, telling us the end of the story or hinting at it enough that by the time we read how it actually happened, it seemed repetitive. I kept waiting for some big reveal at the end to make it worth my effort of finishing it, but there was none.

 

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