The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

North Korea may be one of the last places left on Earth that we know very little about. It is a place run by paranoia, fear, and a ruthless dictator.

The novel follows an orphan in North Korea who through his rise and fall in the spectacularly strange place known as the DPRK. In the absense of lots of facts, the author imaginatevely weaves this story of historical fiction/satire from bits of news, interviews with defectors, and his own visits to North Korea.

I have mixed feelings about this book. As a novel, it was exciting to read; the blend of absurd and grotesque kept me turning the pages. When reading the reviews of others, many mention that it won the Pulitzer Prize. That was a shocking to me. It was a great read, but why did it get the Pulitzer? It feels like it got lots of kudos for being set in North Korea and the author having traveled there. Someone also mentioned that it came across as a bit inauthentic. It’s true that author has not lived in North Korea, and is not North Korean but since it is so hard to get any authentic stories from there (for now), I am inclined to give it a pass. The author does mention he hopes one day that North Koreans will be able to tell their own stories.

When reading this, you have to remember that lots of it is satire, humor, and just plain made up. We don’t know lots about North Korea, so an author has to use a lot of creative license in writing a book like this. If you keep that in mind while reading, it is a very interesting book.

Now, if you want to read some truly authentic short stories that were written by a North Korean, and smuggled out of the country at great risk to the author, you should try reading The Accusation.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #11 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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