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Review: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson – Finding True Freedom

By Hippiebookworm @HippieBookworm

Orphan Master's SonI’m very proud of where I come from – central Ohio. I tell my southern neighbors that I bleed scarlet and gray (I’m an OSU Buckeye fan) and I didn’t shy away from my American accent when I was living in Costa Rica. I’m proud to be a graduate of my high school and of my college. I even brag about my family to my friends down here in Florida – speaking about my new cousins, weddings and all that my siblings have accomplished. I was raised to be proud of who I am and where I come from.

I believe that my pride comes from the freedom I’ve had to make the choices I did – what college I went to, what my studies were, where I lived and what I ended up doing for a living. All these options gave me the freedom to create the life I wanted to. This blog gives me the freedom to write about what I want and insert my opinions, something I don’t get at my job where I have specific topics to write about and I need to adhere to the values of my organization.

In Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, we meet a boy with no identity. He is an orphan, named after a martyr of North Korea as all orphans are. He begins to invent for himself a life – he is not an orphan, but the son of the orphan master. His mother died tragically and so it’s just the two of them. This gets him through his childhood as one by one he sees the other boys in his home die, starve or be taken for labor purposes.

Upon his adulthood he is forced into military service where the government gives him, not only assignments, but identities. He becomes a kidnapper, a sailor and fisherman, a spy, a diplomat and a prisoner before he assumes the identity of high-ranking officer who is personal friends with Kim Jong-il. It’s when he finds the strength and courage to defy this leader and steal his love that he finds true freedom in one of the most oppressed nations in the modern world.

Two things stood out to me in this book.

The first thing that stood out to me is that when something happens, whether it be to the benefit of the government or not, the witnesses will get together and make up these crazy stories about what actually took place. For instance, when the fishing vessel Junma was boarded by American troops who stole the framed pictures of the dictator from the boat house, the Koreans got together a concocted this crazy story about how a sailor on the ship single-handedly defeated the Americans in hand-to-hand combat and lost the pictures in the process. This sailor becomes a national hero.

The second thing that stood out to me is that the government and others buy into the stories and celebrate them as if they are the actual truth. Even when it’s apparent that the group made up a huge lie, they still pretend as if the lie is truth. For instance, when Jun Do assumes the identity of Commander Ga, even though the Leader has known Ga for years and understands that this guy is not him, he treats him as if he is. He gives him Commander Ga’s home, wife and children and even his job. He takes him into his confidence as if he is the real thing.


This story is filled with twists and turns. It’s a coming-of-age story wrapped in a romance wrapped in a government conspiracy story and even more. One day you’ll laugh and the next you’re in tears. And the propaganda in the book is priceless – how the government propaganda portrays dogs as vicious creatures and says that Americans train their dogs but don’t train their own children to behave. They portray Americans as savages and uncivilized so watch out and don’t take offense.

I give this story 5 of 5 stars and would recommend it to anyone who is not afraid of having their eyes opened to others’ plights. And it looks likes other would agree as this book won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Do you like books that open your eyes to others’ situations or would you rather be kept in the dark?

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