The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson – a Review

Cold and lonely.  Such is Jun Do’s life.   The cold might be in the unheated orphanage run by his father, where Jun Do fairs no better than the orphans over whose life he holds the power of life and death.   It may be at his listening post on board the fishing vessel Jumna or in Prison 33, but his world is predominantly cold.  The cold places are also lonely.  His father’s refusal to acknowledge him seals his fate with the orphans, who, without families for the state to use to extort fulfillment of duty, are only allowed to perform jobs that likely end in death.  No one gets close to another in the pitch black incursion tunnels under the DMZ.

Despite his orphan-like loneliness, Jun Do (phonetically pronounced John Doe), finds an odd nurture from the heart of the Jumna‘s captain and mother-like protection from Mognan, Prison 33’s photographer.  For a fleeting moment he finds intimacy in the arms of Sun Moon.  Nurture and intimacy are the victories of a lifetime when displayed against the gray, brutal background of North Korea.  To love after being unloved is a lifetime achievement. 

Jun Do’s life takes some improbable twists, yet Adam Johnson makes them believable, even logical.  At page five I wanted to to know what happened next to Jun Do.  By page twenty I wanted to see him succeed in a way that kept the pages turning late into the night. The narrative structure requires an occasional mental adjustment and page review just make sure the reader has the sequence correct, but it works in the telling of this story, serving to heighten suspense.

During and after reading The Orphan Master’s Son I went to the internet to see which components of the Johnson’s portrayal of North Korean culture were true and which were not.  Unfortunately most are true or based on a composite picture of a sick Orwellian culture.

Stylistically this book is in a class by itself.  You will find no formula writing or cliche here.   Thematically, this book reminds me a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where loyalty and love are all the more valuable for existing in a world with so little of either.

 

 

 

 

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