By Emily Gatlin
It’s rather rude to say “I told you so” but I totally did. I told every person I could find with ears about Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. As a guest on Jere Nash and Andy Taggart’s show on SuperTalk Mississippi, I geeked out over it. When I was a bookseller extraordinaire, I danced with it and waved it in front of my customers. Now that I think about it, I talked about it last year when I was on a panel about bookselling at the Overby Center. I really, really liked The Orphan Master’s Son.
The Pulitzer Prize committee shared my feels. The Orphan Master’s Son was just awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The other fiction finalists were What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. Last year, no prize was given for fiction, which was a shock to the literary community. I still don’t know how that happened.
Given the subject matter of The Orphan Master’s Son, you might think Adam Johnson only received the prize because it was timely. I have read several articles which make that very assumption, and I have to wonder if the writer even opened the book. The story is incredible, dark, and the narrative itself is addictive.
Without giving too much of the plot away (because I want you to read this book), Pak Jun Do lives with his father (the “orphan master”) at Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans in North Korea. Famine and horrific living conditions closes the work camp, and Jun Do is turned into a soldier, trained to fight in the dark. He quickly rises to power, becomes a threat to dictator Kim Jong-il, and he tries to get his wife and step children out of North Korea.
I learned so much about North Korea from this book, and it offers great insight into how the people of North Korea actually are. Read it, and let me know what you thought about it. Always feel free to shoot me an email.
Emily Gatlin spent four years as the manager of an independent bookstore in Mississippi. In 2012, she was nominated to serve on the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Board of Directors. She is a contributor for Book Riot, Food Riot, and also writes for Invitation Oxford and Mud & Magnolias Magazine. Occasionally, she updates her own blog, A Prose For Emily.