Monday, May 13, 2013

The Orphan Master’s Son (by Adam Johnson)

This is the book that won the 2013 Tournament of Books, so I had to read it to see if I liked it better than How Should a Person Be? or Building Stories. It also just won a Pulitzer, so I had high hopes.

My high hopes were completely exceeded. Holy shit. Read this book.

It is a fascinating, well-researched, often brutal (but still page-turning and entertaining) book about a boy who grows up in an orphanage in North Korea and then ends up having many adventures in the repressive North Korean regime. It's a wonderful subject for a book, and Johnson somehow even got to go to North Korea under Kim Jong Il for research. The interview after the book made me appreciate what he'd pulled off even more, as he mentioned some of the real-life inspirations for the novel.

I am interested in reading the articles that discuss the issues of race and appropriation; after all, this book is about Korean characters but was written by a white dude. (The issue was even more stark in Memoirs of a Geisha, which is also by a white guy, but in first person and from the point of view of a woman. I do love that book though, total guilty pleasure.) But apart from all of that, I recommend this book in a major, major way. It's amazing.

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