Before I say anything else, let me just put this out front: go read this book. I mean it. Now. Put it next on your reading list, save some time to read it over the holidays, whatever you have to do. It's worth it, period.
I don't usually check out a book just because it's won a lot of prizes. The last Pulitzer Prize winning book I read greatly disappointed me. So I almost didn't read this book Because of it's Prize winning status. I picked it up at the book store because there was a buy-two-get-one-free sale. Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son was my free book. I read it last out of three. And it changed me.
I know that's saying a lot. And I don't mean that suddenly I wanted to quit my job and become a humanitarian and try to alter the world. I don't mean that I started living my life differently or found religion or my true inner self. But I did change. Even if for just the time I was immersed in its pages, I felt that I was in the presence of something profound and unalterably sad and unflinchingly honest. And to feel that accompanying sweeping emotion is to feel like a piece of you will never be quite the same.
I'm quite aware that this review will not do the novel justice. It's so much more than a chronicle of life in North Korea, however, so much more than a love story or even the depiction of a mesmerizing odyssey. The characters were so far from anything I've known before, and yet I could not untangle myself from them. I felt lost when I had finished the book. Not unsatisfied by any means, but I had that unique emptiness a reader experiences when an epic comes to an end. I wanted to erase my memory of having read it, so I could go back and read it again.
The Orphan Master's Son is not a heart-warming tale. It will shock you, appall you and strike you deep in the viscera. And it will make you appreciate moments of beauty and moments of kindness in a way that you never have before. Every word will be worth it.