I recently finished The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, and boy was I prepared to hate it. Let’s see…
- about a part of the world that the author cannot know much about – check!
- uses clever literary devices of flashback and mistaken identities – check!
- features the poorest of the poor to tell a story of redemption – check!
Happily, I’m very wrong, and this novel felt sad in all the right places, pressed emotional buttons that it had no right to press (but did so successfully), and somehow gave a feeling for just how fucked-up The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is (and how evil, and how banal evil truly is). The use of a poor kid with a skill for survival, living in the dark, and languages as a cipher for the misery and hopelessness and pervasiveness of propaganda and state control should not have worked, but I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough towards the end.
I think that the device works particularly well because of the way that the orphan master’s son is known by all, and yet the regime can’t let the rest of the nation know that this hasn’t been all planned out. They even try to control his death at the end, but his own interrogator takes that power away from them.
Two thumbs way up!