Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University, chose "The Orphan Master's Son" as his best book of 2014. 

Book Title: The Orphan Master’s Son

Author: Adam Johnson

Review: Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University 

North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), appears often in U.S. news coverage, and yet it is an isolated land that most of us know very little about. Yes, we know somewhat about the Kim family dynasty, the constantly tense and dangerous standoff between the DPRK and South Korea, and that China finds itself trying to contain the mercurial DPRK leadership while maintaining the DPRK as a buffer between its own border and the U.S. military in the South. However, there are few sources of credible fiction that provide insight into life in North Korea. That is a draw of “The Orphan Master’s Son”, a novel that uses the protagonist Pak Jun Do to weave together an adventure story that ranges from the depths of orphanage life and prison life in the DPRK to the world of the DPRK’s leadership. 

Through the eyes, thoughts and words of Jun Do we get a glimpse into what life in the hermit kingdom may be like: “The first day in the tunnel is no problem, but when you wake on the second day from the darkness of a dream into true darkness, that’s when your eyes must open. If you keep your eyes closed, your mind will show you all kinds of crazy movies, … But with your eyes open, all you had to face was the nothingness of what you were really doing.” 

There is much to recommend in this marvelous novel. The writing is crisp and engaging, keeping the reader eager to find out where the story is going. While Jun Do’s life journey from his upbringing in a state-run orphanage to eventually assuming the identity of an army Commander to become a member of the DPRK elite and husband of North Korea’s preeminent actress is fantastical, Jun Do is a North Korean Everyman. The story of Jun Do is enthralling; it is easy to see why this novel was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Read Dr. Becker’s review from last year: Tackling the World’s Toughest Peak

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...

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