Hopefully, Pak Jun Do (phonetically, John Doe) is not the North Korean everyman. From his start in a North Korean orphanage selecting which orphans get food to his stint in the tunnels beneath the DMZ fighting in the dark to kidnapping Japanese citizens to mining uranium in Prison 33 Jun Do manages to survive the brutal, dystopian regime. Evoking George Orwell’s 1984, author Adam Johnson illuminates the struggle ordinary citizens endure to stay alive. Moving quickly from one harrowing episode to another, the hero seems destined to outlast even the Dear Leader (Kim Jong-Il) until he meets and falls in love with Sun Moon, the only movie star in the isolated nation. Assuming the identity of her dead husband, Jun Do becomes enmeshed in Kim’s plot to humiliate the United States while secretly planning to save Sun Moon and her children. Beautifully written, briskly paced and filled with detail, The Orphan Master’s Son illustrates resilience, cultural misunderstanding and power of friendship.
“The way you dig into a boot for old sticky toes is the way you spring a trapdoor in a DMZ tunnel or pull a stranger off a beach in Japan: you just take that breath and go.”