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Extended Audio Sample The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel, by Adam Johnson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.00016501240695 out of 53.00016501240695 out of 53.00016501240695 out of 53.00016501240695 out of 53.00016501240695 out of 5 3.00 (8,060 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Adam Johnson Narrator: Adam Johnson, Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, James Kyson Lee Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2012 ISBN: 9780307939708
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A true thriller that combines contemporary politics with timeless storytelling, "The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel of North Korea" is a tantalizing novel guaranteed to grab your attention. The novel follows Pak Jung Do, son of a politically powerful man who runs an orphan camp tellingly called "Long Tomorrows". As time passes, young Pak becomes a loyal acolyte within the North Korean dictatorship and rises within the administration, eventually becoming mercenary for the infamous Kim Jong-Il. His tasks are brutal, violet, and arbitrary, reflecting the instability and tyranny of the North Korean dictatorship, which treats its own citizens similarly to how Pak treats his victims.

Pak's powerful stature within the government exposes him to a famous North Korean actress, Sun Moon, with whom he falls deeply in love. This personal revelation sparks a larger political epiphany for Pak, who, adorned with a conscience, recognizes the insanity and immorality of Kim Jong-Il's tyranny. These developments lead Pak to the precarious position of political enemy of the regime, and he is forced to fight against the unilaterally powerful, militaristic, and ruthless government he formally worked for in order to save the woman he loves.

An interesting look at an isolated country and a classic tale of romance and action, The Orphan Master's Son has garnered high praise from critics and recently was selected as a Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. Author Adam Johnson graduated with an MFA in writing from McNeese State and has had his short fiction printed in magazines such as Esquire and Harper's Magazine. He was born in South Dakota and currently resides in San Francisco and teaches English at Stanford University.

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Adam Johnson's remarkable novel The Orphan Master’s Son is set in North Korea, an entire nation that has conformed to the fictions spun by a dictator and his inner circle…Mr. Johnson is a wonderfully flexible writer who can pivot in a matter of lines from absurdity to atrocity…We don't know what's really going on in that strange place, but a disquieting glimpse suggesting what it must be like can be found in this brilliant and timely novel. Wall Street Journal
  • A harrowing, clever, incomparable riff on life in Kim Jong Il's North Korea San Francisco Chronicle
  • Magnificently accomplished…Part thriller, part coming-of-age novel, part romance, The Orphan Master’s Son is made sturdy by research…but what makes it so absorbing isn’t its documentary realism but the dark flight of the author's imagination…rich with a sense of discovery…The year is young, but The Orphan Master’s Son has an early lead on novel of 2012 The Daily Beast
  • Providing a rare glimpse into one of the world’s least known countries, Adam Johnson weaves a tale of hardship, romance, and redemption in North Korea in The Orphan Master’s Son. National Geographic Traveler
  • An incredibly vivid page-turner of a novel…Romance, coming-of-age tale, adventure and thriller all in one, this book is singular and not to be missed. The Huffington Post, 10 Best January Must-Reads
  • The death of Kim Jong Il couldn't have come at a better time for novelist Adam Johnson. The Orphan Master’s Son is a richly textured political thriller about the hidden world of North Korea with all of its misery, violence and defiant acts of love under impossible circumstances. Stunning and evocative imagery abounds on every page. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • “Ambitious, violent, audacious—and stunningly good.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Readers who enjoy a fast-paced political thriller will welcome this wild ride through the amazingly conflicted world that exists within the heavily guarded confines of North Korea.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “[A] fantastical, careening tale…Informed by extensive research and travel to perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, Johnson has created a remarkable novel that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief…Johnson winningly employs different voices, with the propagandizing national radio station serving as a mad Greek chorus. Part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and part romance, The Orphan Master’s Son is a triumph on every level.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Johnson’s novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an American writer has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. While oppressive propaganda echoes throughout, the tone never slides into caricature; if anything, the story unfolds with astounding empathy for those living in constant fear of imprisonment—or worse—but who manage to maintain their humanity against all odds…Johnson juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Startling…Johnson’s carefully layered story feels authentic…[He] writes light-footed prose, barely allowing harrowing glimpses of atrocity to register before accelerating onward. He resists the temptation to turn his subject matter into comic fodder, but never ignores the absurdity, provoking laughter with jagged edges that tends to die in your throat.”

    Newsday

  • “[A] vivid, violent portrait of a nation…[a] macabrely realistic, politically savvy, satirically spot-on saga. Johnson’s metathriller, spiked with gory intrigues and romantic subplots, is a ripping piece of fiction that is also an astute commentary on the nature of freedom, sacrifice, and glory in a world where everyone’s ‘a survivor who has nothing to live for.’”

    Elle

  • “An incredibly vivid page-turner of a novel…Romance, coming-of-age tale, adventure, and thriller all in one, this book is singular and not to be missed.”

    Huffington Post

  • “Providing a rare glimpse into one of the world’s least known countries, Adam Johnson weaves a tale of hardship, romance, and redemption in North Korea in The Orphan Master’s Son.”

    National Geographic Traveler

  • “The death of Kim Jong Il couldn’t have come at a better time for novelist Adam Johnson. The Orphan Master’s Son is a richly textured political thriller about the hidden world of North Korea with all of its misery, violence, and defiant acts of love under impossible circumstances. Stunning and evocative imagery abounds on every page.”

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • “Magnificently accomplished…Part thriller, part coming-of-age novel, part romance, The Orphan Master’s Son is made sturdy by research…but what makes it so absorbing isn’t its documentary realism but the dark flight of the author’s imagination…Rich with a sense of discovery.”

    Daily Beast

  • “A harrowing, clever, incomparable riff on life in Kim Jong Il’s North Korea.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • The Orphan Master’s Son performs an unusual form of sorcery, taking a frankly cruel and absurd reality and somehow converting it into a humane and believable fiction. It’s an epic feat of storytelling. It’s thrillingly written, and it’s just thrilling period.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “A great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction. That’s the genius of The Orphan Master’s Son. Adam Johnson has taken the papier-mâché creation that is North Korea and turned it into a real and riveting place that readers will find unforgettable…Johnson’s book is an audacious act of imagination: an intimate narrative about one of the most closed nations on Earth…Yet the setting is precisely rendered…I haven’t liked a new novel this much in years.”

    Washington Post

  • “An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.”

    Pulitzer Prize citation

  • “Mr. Johnson does an agile job of combining fable-like elements with vivid emotional details to create a story that has both the boldness of a cartoon and the nuance of a deeply felt portrait…In making his hero, and the nightmare he lives through, come so thoroughly alive, Mr. Johnson has written a daring and remarkable novel, a novel that not only opens a frightening window on the mysterious kingdom of North Korea, but one that also excavates the very meaning of love and sacrifice.”

    New York Times

  • “All of these elements—stylistic panache, technical daring, moral weight, and an uncanny sense of the current moment—combine in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, the single best work of fiction published in 2012…The book’s cunning, flair, and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart. Pulitzer Prize citation

  • All of these elements—stylistic panache, technical daring, moral weight and an uncanny sense of the current moment—combine in Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, the single best work of fiction published in 2012. . . . The book's cunning, flair and pathos are testaments to the still-formidable power of the written word. The Wall Street Journal
  • The Orphan Master’s Son performs an unusual form of sorcery, taking a frankly cruel and absurd reality and somehow converting it into a humane and believable fiction. It’s an epic feat of story-telling. It’s thrillingly written, and it's just thrilling period. Zadie Smith, Los Angeles Times
  • A great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction. That’s the genius of The Orphan Master’s Son.  Adam Johnson has taken the papier-mâché creation that is North Korea and turned it into a real and riveting place that readers will find unforgettable. This is a novel worth getting excited about, one which more than delivers on its pre-publication buzz… I haven’t liked a new novel this much in years, and I want to share the simple pleasure of reading the book. But I also think it’s an instructive lesson in how to paint a fictional world against a background of fact: The secret is research…It’s this process of re-imagination that makes the fictional locale so real and gives the novel an impact you could never achieve with a thousand newspaper stories. Johnson has painted in indelible colors the nightmare of Kim’s North Korea. When English readers want to understand what it was about — how people lived and died inside a cult of personality that committed unspeakable crimes against its citizens — I hope they will turn to this carefully documented story. The happy surprise is that they will find it such a page turner. The Washington Post
  • Startling…Johnson's carefully layered story feels authentic...[He] writes light-footed prose, barely allowing harrowing glimpses of atrocity to register before accelerating onward. He resists the temptation to turn his subject matter into comic fodder, but never ignores the absurdity, provoking laughter with jagged edges that tends to die in your throat. Newsday
  • Johnson’s novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an American writer has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. While oppressive propaganda echoes throughout, the tone never slides into caricature; if anything, the story unfolds with astounding empathy for those living in constant fear of imprisonment—or worse—but who manage to maintain their humanity against all odds. The book traces the journey of Jun Do, who for years lives according to the violent dictates of the state, as a tunnel expert who can fight in the dark, a kidnapper, radio operator, tenuous hero, and foreign dignitary before eventually taking his fate into his own hands. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, a government interrogator, who tortures innocent citizens on a daily basis, remembers his own childhood and the way in which his father explained the inexplicable: ‘...we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.’ In this moment and a thousand others like it, Johnson juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope. Publisher's Weekly, (STARRED REVIEW )
  • [A] fantastical, careening tale…Informed by extensive research and travel to perhaps the most secretive nation on earth, Johnson has created a remarkable novel that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief.…Johnson winningly employs different voices, with the propagandizing national radio station serving as a mad Greek chorus. Part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and part romance, The Orphan Master's Son is a triumph on every level. Booklist, (STARRED REVIEW)
  • Readers who enjoy a fast-paced political thriller will welcome this wild ride through the amazingly conflicted world that exists within the heavily guarded confines of North Korea. Highly recommended. Library Journal, (STARRED REVIEW)
  • [A] vivid, violent portrait of a nation…[a] macabrely realistic, politically savvy, satirically spot-on saga. Johnson’s metathriller, spiked with gory intrigues and romantic subplots, is a ripping piece of fiction that is also an astute commentary on the nature of freedom, sacrifice, and glory in a world where everyone’s “a survivor who has nothing to live for. Elle
  • Ambitious, violent, audacious—and stunningly good. O Magazine
  • Adam Johnson has pulled off literary alchemy, first by setting his novel in North Korea, a country that few of us can imagine, then by producing such compelling characters whose lives unfold at breakneck speed. I was engrossed right to the amazing conclusion. The result is pure gold, a terrific novel. Abraham Verghese
  • An addictive novel of daring ingenuity; a study of sacrifice and freedom in a citizen-eating dynasty; and a timely reminder that anonymous victims of oppression are also human beings who love. A brave and impressive book. David Mitchell
  • I've never read anything like it. This is truly an amazing reading experience, a tremendous accomplishment. I could spend days talking about how much I love this book. It sounds like overstatement, but no. The Orphan Master's Son is a masterpiece. Charles Bock

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • Selected for the January 2013 Indie Next List
  • A 2012 Barnes & Noble Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 ALA Notable Book for Fiction
  • Longlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal for Literature
  • Winner of the 2012 California Gold Medal for Literature for Fiction
  • A 2012 Washington Post Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 Entertainment Weekly Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 Los Angeles Times Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 Financial Times Best Book of the Year for Fiction
  • A 2012 Slate Magazine Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 BookPage Best Book for Fiction
  • A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
  • A 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
  • A 2012 Salon Magazine Best Book of the Year

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Alison Kenney | 2/3/2014

    " I really thought this book was a farce. To me, the main character Pak Jun Do (i.e. John Doe) is way too Forest Gump-ish to be believable. Most of the major plot lines make no sense - a delegation of several high level government players from Texas builds a relationship with some N Korean under comrades and they keep in touch during long stretches of prison sentences and are able to execute a deportation of the very highest level?? I think there are some fascinating stories to be told from N Korean perspective but this isn't one. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Pat | 1/17/2014

    " I enjoyed the complexity, layers and character development in this book. It reminded me of the creative writing and storytelling in Cloud Atlas and The Book Thief. For me, I give it five stars; however, for this review, I gave it four stars only because I don't think everyone is going to like this the story and the imaginative writing style. I also find the timing of reading this book to be coincidental to the current military muscle flexing occurring by North Korea. Some histories continue to repeat themselves. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jennifer Vilaga | 1/16/2014

    " Started 7/2/12. Evening. The hype on this book from other members of the RFBC is strong. Looking forward to being engrossed. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Carla | 1/10/2014

    " The characters and even parts of the plot of this book were interesting, but I just couldn't bring myself to like it. It was disjointed and nonsensical and although the ending was a tiny bit exciting, the rest was a slog. Maybe I just don't "get it" but I have no idea what the critics are raving about. It is an interesting picture of North Korea, but it's told in a way that is incredibly slow and boring. Not one I'd recommend. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Robin | 12/29/2013

    " I bought this book because it was on so many best-of-the-year lists and because I was interested to learn about North Korea from the perspective and the experience of the author. I was tempted to give the book three stars for its important content, but I couldn't do it. The plot and the characters brought the book back to a two-star book for me. Disjointed plot, not enough hints or development to help readers understnd what was real and what was metaphor about North Korea, no characters to care for. So I learned something but I had to learn most of what I learned by reading the reviews of other readers. A slog of a read for me, especially through the middle. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Trey | 12/19/2013

    " Although it took a bit to get into this, I really liked it. I simply cannot fathom the time and research it took to make this so authentic. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brian | 12/8/2013

    " Awesome book about a society I know nothing about. Sort of a combination of North Korea and 1984 meets schizophrenia. Absorbing read, and you learn a lot about a closed and mysterious society. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kyle | 11/22/2013

    " So good, but sort of went awry in the end. Still an incredibly worthwhile read. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Steve | 10/6/2013

    " OK. I know it won the Pulitzer, but MAN what a weird book!!! I did not like at all the way it did not flow. Perhaps it was just above my head, but I like books I can understand and enjoy. If you love it, I'm sorry, but it was not for me! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Reshma | 9/16/2013

    " Enjoyed the first part of the book but the other half became a little too confusing for me and I didn't have much interest to get back to the book :( "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Brigitte Foss | 9/7/2013

    " Gives you a glimpse in North Korean Life. Though to read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Trish | 9/5/2013

    " One of the best books I've read in the past year. Wow. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jennifer Franz | 8/12/2013

    " I liked this book in the beginning but I started to hate it after a while. It was way too long and was just too much. I wanted it to end long before it did. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sarah Jewett | 7/16/2013

    " Modern classic. Someday this will be required reading at school. Although this book is classified as a work of fiction, you can't help but imagine that actual events similar to this story may have happened in jolly ole North Korea. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Anne | 5/10/2013

    " Intense, moving, gripping, horrifying... I think it was a great book, although I'm not entirely sure. The plot became a little improbable, I suppose, but I didn't mind that much. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Missy | 4/5/2013

    " I gave this book two stars because it was one of the most difficult books I've read recently. I didn't enjoy it but I did learn something, hence two stars and not one. Our bookclub did have a great discussion after reading it, so there's that, but I'd have a very hard time recommending it to anyone. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Holly Verderame | 11/26/2012

    " So good!!! The action and raw truth is captivating! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Terri | 7/19/2012

    " A haunting but fascinating and riveting read - one of my favorites of 2012! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Anne Hunt | 4/7/2012

    " I am not sure what I think. Still digesting "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lisa | 3/20/2012

    " disturbing. memorable. highly recommend. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Russell Flowers | 2/21/2012

    " Almost lyrical and dreamlike in places. But, toward the very end, you see how it takes place in the real world (or could) and how mad North Korea is to make that possible. "

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