I’ll admit I was skeptical, at first, when I began The Orphan Master’s Son. How much could an outsider truly know about the everyday lives of North Koreans. Pak Jun Do’s story proved me a fool. The Orphan Master’s Son is a story of one man’s life in North Korea: his trials, his devotion to his country, his heart’s longing, and the improbably marvelous and harrowing journey that his life takes.
Adam Johnson weaves the details of North Korean life, culture, food, poverty, and propaganda into this story with such deftness that I found myself continually rechecking the title page to make sure that I wasn’t misreading a Korean name.
This is not a fantasy tale, but it is magical all the same. The magic is not light. It is dark and ominous, twisting the cords of fate until some snap and others twang off inharmonious notes that seem to sing the song of this secret nation. Yet, despite the discordant melody of disappeared people and forced labor, the citizens of this nation say that it is beautiful. How? This has been a real mystery to me as well. How have the people of North Korea not just risen up and overthrown their government. Johnson masterfully explains by recrafting the culture of North Korean propaganda in which every single word spoken by every citizen at every moment of their life has already been written by the author of the nation’s fate. It’s a brilliant tale, and review can’t do it justice because the world inside this tiny country is so unlike the world we know. It’s a place that everyone should visit.