Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: "The Orphan Master's Son" by Adam Johnson

Time will tell as to whether or not Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Orphan Master’s Son will go the way of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and make him a celebrity, or Paul Harding’s Tinkers and leave the author right where he started as merely a cult author. But for me personally, I think it will go the way of the latter, because it is a bit too dense for mass appeal, and even though some scenes are packed to the gills with blood and guts, it never really gets interesting beyond the confusing plotline with little in the way of guideposts to let the reader know about timelines and who is telling us the story. In that way, it feels like a more complex but similar book to something that writer Chris Adrian would publish, both Adrian and Johnson being writers writers who value originality over coherence, A. The novel is told in two different parts using three different narrators. When the book begins, we meet Jun Do, a not-quite orphan in an orphanage (his father runs the place and his mom is dead) in a dystopian version of modern South Korea. As he grows up, he becomes kidnapper for the police state, and in doing so, falls in love with the legendary and elusive Sun Moon, an actress who is married to the great Commander Ga, who is an intense rival to dictator Kim Jon Il. It gets rather confusing, with fake identities and an American woman sailing around the world in a small boat, making me wish that Johnson had at least put a character list at the beginning, which I think is fair. It’s very elusive and idiosyncratic at times, but there is great talent here, enough to make me want to read the next book by Johnson, as long as he has control over his subject.
Rating: 3/5

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