The Orphan Master's Son

North Korea is often mocked but rarely explored with empathy. This book is brimming with empathy. After reading this book, I listened to a few interviews with the author, and this sense of empathy is clear from his first word. Adam Johnson’s primary goal in writing fiction is to build understanding between the reader and his characters. He accomplishes this goal in spades.

Although this book is constantly moving, covering a lot of ground, changing perspective, full of a sense of impending action, Johnson fills the pages with a lot of wisdom. He sets his ideas on a few major ideas: what is the state’s role in the family? What is the role of fiction-making and propaganda, especially when there’s a strong, shared, collective fiction guiding a whole nation? Johnson’s biggest success is that he never gets too expansive, his scope is pretty squarely focused on a few ideas, but in the end, as with any good literature, by focusing on something specific you end up learning universal lessons.