Welcome to Between the Lines Book Club! This month we’re reading The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. Please comment about this book online, and join us at our in-person meeting on Sunday, October 26th at 2PM, at Arden Dimick Library (891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864).
The Orphan Master’s Son tells the story of Jun Do, who is raised in an orphanage in North Korea. Jun Do believes that he must be the son of the Orphan Master, saying, “The surest evidence that the woman in the photo was Jun Do’s mother was the unrelenting way the Orphan Master singled him out for punishment.”
As Jun Do grows up, he finds himself in a range of morally convoluted situations. He lives in a world in which personal survival trumps all else, and in which there’s no truth expect what the Dear Leader proclaims to be the truth:
“Where we are from… [s]tories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.”
The Orphan Master’s Son was critically praised for its fictional creation of a bizarre dystopian state, the atmosphere of suspense, and the use of dark humor (a visit to a Texas ranch is both horrifying and hilarious). It was criticized by some for its cartoonish portrayal of Kim Jong Il and the tonal shifts – for some critics, these shifts were brilliant, while others found them discordant. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging more about Adam Johnson and the story behind the book. Stay tuned!