The Orphan Master’s Son (Johnson)

I already owned it, but when it won the Pulitzer, I decided to make it next. I finished it yesterday, and I am still not sure what to make of it. Part of me wonders whether its success is akin to the success of The Kite Runner. At that time, Afghanistan was a regular feature on the front page, so we embraced its first real popular story in order to learn more about the country. Let me be clear. Adam Johnson is a MUCH better writer than Hosseini. The Orphan Master’s Son is extremely well-written and well-plotted. Johnson uses shifting perspectives effectively. The ending is something of a farce, and I think it’s meant to be one. Is this a comic novel? I don’t insist that books necessarily fit themselves into a particular genre. On the other hand, what is someone named Adam Johnson doing writing about North Korea? Though I normally avoid such things, I did glance at The Reader’s Guide supplement for long enough to know that Johnson did do his research, and he actually visited North Korea. Still, some of the characters and plot elements come off as cartoonish and stereotypical. Does that make them wrong? I don’t know, but I worry about this book being for now (and as far as I know) the sole representation of life in North Korea.

There is much to admire here. I particularly liked the motif of how we create and need stories and not always for a particular reason we can name. And certainly not for any kind of honest reason.

I’d love to hear what other people think about the book. It is provocative, so that’s a strong point in its favor.


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