The Orphan Master's Son. Home · The Orphan Master's Son The Orphan. Read more Alfgifu the Orphan. Read more. The Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times betselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world's most mysterious dictatorship. "Imagine. The Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times bestselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world's most mysterious.
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Looking for More Great Reads? Though they didn't know it, this was the beginning of the famine-first went the power, then the train service. When the shock-work whistles stopped blowing, Jun Do knew it was bad.
One day the fishing fleet went out and didn't come back. With winter came blackfinger and the old people went to sleep. These were just the first months, long before the bark-eaters.
The loudspeakers called the famine an Arduous March, but that voice was piped in from Pyongyang. Jun Do had never heard anyone in Chongjin call it that. What was happening to them didn't need a name-it was everything, every fingernail you chewed and swallowed, every lift of an eyelid, every trip to the latrine where you tried to shit out wads of balled sawdust.
When all hope was gone, the Orphan Master burned the bunks, the boys sleeping around a pot stove that glowed on their last night. In the morning, he flagged down a Soviet Tsir, the military truck they called "the crow" because of its black canvas canopy on the back. There were only a dozen boys left, a perfect fit in the back of the crow.
All orphans are destined for the Army eventually. But this was how Jun Do, at fourteen, became a tunnel soldier, trained in the art of zero-light combat.
And that's where Officer So found him, eight years later. The old man actually came underground to get a look at Jun Do, who'd spent an overnighter with his team inside a tunnel that went ten kilometers under the DMZ, almost to the suburbs of Seoul.
When exiting a tunnel, they'd always walk out backward, to let their eyes adjust, and he almost ran into Officer So, whose shoulders and big rib cage spoke of a person who'd come of age in the good times, before the Chollima campaigns. When Jun Do turned, a circle of light glowed behind the man's close- cropped white hair. The skin on his face was darker than his scalp or jaw, making it look like the man had just shaved off a beard and thick, wild hair.
In it were blue jeans, a yellow shirt with a polo pony, and shoes called Nikes that Jun Do recognized from long ago, when the orphanage was used to welcome ferry-loads of Koreans who had been lured back from Japan with promises of Party jobs and apartments in Pyongyang.
The orphans would wave welcome banners and sing Party songs so that the Japanese Koreans would descend the gangway, despite the horrible state of Chongjin and the crows that were waiting to transport them all to kwan li so labor camps.
It was like yesterday, watching those perfect boys with their new sneakers, finally coming home. Jun Do held up the yellow shirt.
They took a train to the eastern port of Cholhwang, where Officer So commandeered a fishing boat, the crew so frightened of their military guests that they wore their Kim Il Sung pins all the way across the sea to the coast of Japan. Upon the water, Jun Do saw small fish with wings and late morning fog so thick it took the words from your mouth. There were no loudspeakers blaring all day, and all the fishermen had portraits of their wives tattooed on their chests.
The sea was spontaneous in a way he'd never seen before-it kept your body uncertain as to how you'd lean next, and yet you could become comfortable with that.
The wind in the rigging seemed in communication with the waves shouldering the hull, and lying atop the wheelhouse under the stars at night, it seemed to Jun Do that this was a place a man could close his eyes and exhale. Officer So had also brought along a man named Gil as their translator. Gil read Japanese novels on the deck and listened to headphones attached to a small cassette player. Only once did Jun Do try to speak to Gil, approaching him to ask what he was listening to.
But before Jun Do could open his mouth, Gil stopped the player and said the word "Opera. That's all Officer So would say about their trip. On the second day, darkness falling, they could see the distant lights of a town, but the Captain would take the boat no closer. Jun Do got dressed, cinching the belt to keep the stiff jeans on. Officer So said, "I haven't kidnapped anyone in years. To the west, the sun was setting over North Korea, and it was cooling now, the wind shifting directions.
The skiff was tiny, Jun Do thought, barely big enough for one person, let alone three and a struggling kidnap victim.
With a pair of binoculars and a thermos, Officer So climbed down into the skiff. Gil followed. When Jun Do took his place next to Gil, black water lapped over the sides, and right away his shoes soaked through.
He debated revealing that he couldn't swim. Gil kept trying to get Jun Do to repeat phrases in Japanese. Good evening-Konban wa. Excuse me, I am lost-Chotto sumimasen, michi ni mayoimashita. Can you help me find my cat?
Officer So pointed their nose toward shore, the old man pushing the outboard motor, a tired Soviet Vpresna, way too hard. Turning north and running with the coast, the boat would lean shoreward as a swell lifted, then rock back toward open water as the wave set it down again.
Gil took the binoculars, but instead of training them on the beach, he studied the tall buildings, the way the downtown neon came to life. And he was tortured anyway. He passed out before he could yield the confession, which would have been meaningless anyway, since his mother and sibling had not included him in their plans. Appointment as a slave laborer in a dam construction project and a later assignment feeding swine kept him alive as a teen.
The dam was considered impor- tant, so its workers were fed to live rather than to die. On the pig farm, he scavenged. For the whole of his life up until that moment, hunger had been a monster inside him. In his twenty-three years, he had never once entirely placated it, never once stood up to its bullying. So when a new pris- oner told him of foods outside the fence that he strained to imagine, his hunger com- pelled him to join the fellow in an escape.
He is careful to embellish nothing. Escape from Camp 14 is a success. It installs in our otherwise over- matched imaginations the horrific plight of the estimated , souls condemned to a prison existence in North Korea, and it urges us to wish for an end to their misery.
This is because Johnson, who teaches creative writing at Stanford University and there oversees the Stanford Graphic Novel Program, brings to bear on his project the sensibilities and aesthetics of a graphic novelist.
That said, what is the novel about? He has even named himself, equivocally, after the martyr among the who hanged himself to prove his love for his country. Indeed, though Jun Do would not know it, he has given himself a name that sounds like John Doe, that is, our English name for those who have no identity. He is essentially an identity switcher, a trickster in a society whose intolerance of such an entity makes it incapable of seeing him.