Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “north korea”

LurkeyTurkey, #CBR4 Review #16, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Aye, what to say about this book?  I heard about it from a librarian friend of mine, and so our book club decided to take the plunge.  And a plunge it was.

Pak Jun Do is the son of the master of the orphanage Long Tomorrows (hence the book title).  Though he is not technically an orphan, he is treated as such, which in North Korea essentially means you are the lowest class, and nearly untouchable.  Orphans are stripped of their birth names, and given names of North Korean martyrs, and as such, are easily distinguishable.  They are also easily plucked by the government to do the most deplorable jobs that no one wants, or even acknowledges exist: secret tunnel digger/fighter, kidnapper of Japanese citizens, and radio operator on a local fishing vessel.

Propaganda plays a huge role in the story, as the North Korean government feeds its citizens “information” on loud speakers multiple times per day.  Citizens live in a sort of blind terror of their government, and each other, and the animalistic ways people survive is nothing short of terrifying.  It almost makes you wonder if the struggle is worth it at all.

Although this was a very interesting look at the North Korean culture, I don’t know how accurate a portrayal could actually be from a Stanford professor.  I appreciate the attempt at bringing North Korea to the American public, and I have no doubt life there is terrifyingly different from our own.  I am so much more grateful, for example, that Kim Jong Il is dead now than ever before: he is portrayed as being both humorous and vicious, nearly in the same instant.  My main problem is that I wonder at the authenticity of the character portrayal, due to the fact that it was written by an alien of North Korea.  Feel free to tear me apart on this one, but that’s my opinion.

I do wish the last 1/3 of the book hadn’t been as wildly erratic and plot-twisty.  I don’t know what purpose the wild departure served, maybe to lessen the blow for the reader?  Maybe to lessen the attempt at connection to real life in North Korea?  I don’t know, but it was rather less satisfying than it could have been.  Again, just my opinion.

All in all, worth a read, but this one did take me a long time to slog through.  The darkness, and the seeming inevitability of watching yourself become the villain in this kind of society does take a toll.

Janel’s #CBR4 Review #2: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

I picked up this book as my second book of the year because the location of North Korea seemed very timely with the recent passing of Kim Jong Il.   At first I wasn’t sure what time period this book was set in, but during the visit to Texas one of the characters mentioned “the hurricane” which I took to reference Hurricane Katrina and placed this book in modern day.

Both Pak Jun Do and Sun Moon were likeable characters and I found myself cheering them on as they explored their relationship.  Pak Jun Do was able to adapt to any situation put before him, which really was an asset for him.  Sun Moon was portrayed like any modern diva/actress, but it was nice to see her relax and enjoy moments with her children. The description of the US delegation and how they put on a show for the North Koreans was an interesting take of taking an outsider’s view of our culture.

I like the setup of the book and the plot moved forward and back at the right tempo.  The one subplot that I could have lived without was the integrator/biography collector and his parents. It does seem a little surreal that an average citizen could take the place of a high ranking general within North Korea. But this idea of who the leader of a country – such as North Korea – surrounds themselves with is no different than an American President picking friends and past colleagues for high ranking jobs in their cabinet and/or government agencies.

Even though the last 40-50 pages resolved to a predictable ending, I was still riveted in my seat to know how everything worked out. This book is a great read and definitely one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I’m looking forward to hearing Adam Johnson speak at my local indie bookstore later in the month.  Also he was interviewed on Weekend Edition Sunday this past weekend.

I’m giving away a copy of this book over at my blog

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