The Orphan Master’s Son: Gaining freedom where little is to spare

The Orphan Master's SonBefore starting The Orphan Master’s Son by American Adam Johnson, I had heard some buzz on Twitter, and did a quick search on Goodreads to see that quite a few people really enjoyed it. Good enough for me!

The book is set in North Korea and through the eyes of a couple citizens looks at the power the state has on its people, as well as the propaganda it spreads to keep that control.

Throughout the book we largely follow Jun Do who was raised as an orphan, though secretly his father was the Orphan Master (hence the title). As he grows older he has several different jobs for the state, including a kidnapper of Japenese citizens, then as English language spy on a fishing boat. Through a turn of events he finds his way to America on a delegation trip to Texas. After returning, everything changes after he is sent to prison mines for a crime unbeknownst to him.

Without getting into too many spoilers, the rest of the book flips to feature Commander Ga, Kim Jong Il’s great foe, and shows how, as mentioned, the State has so much power over its people that even identities can be changed based on the approval of the Great Leader. Throughout, we’re also told a propaganda story that interestingly mirrors the actual story being told, but obviously in a light that favours the government. This is an effective way to show how the message can be changed to convey one thing, even when everyone is living a completely different reality. How the government can control its people is by far the most interesting aspect of the book for me, though I’m not entirely sure how much is overly exaggerated and how much resembles the truth in some way.

Normally this isn’t the type of book I’d find myself reading, but I’m glad I did as it had brilliant writing, interesting characters, and Johnson really allowed you to get inside their head and believe this all could have happened. I give The Orphan Master’s Son a 5/5.

Advertisements

The Absolutist: An absolutely great read

the-absolutist-coverI could not put this one down.

The Absolutist begins in 1919 with the main character, Tristan Sadler, visiting Norwich to deliver letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, whom he fought with during the Great War.

The story leading up to this point began years prior as Tristan and Will first met at their training grounds. Throughout the novel, the bond between the two continues to grow. Given the time, it was quite interesting to read about the perception of their feelings, and the pain it caused the both of them, who are young and just beginning to discover who they are.

Of course the story takes place during the Great War, and that’s certainly not played down. Both men and their company, once finished with training, are sent to France where they must deal with the harsh realities of war. Their experiences in training, and on the battlefield play a large role in their relationship, as Will refuses to fight, drawing the ire if his superiors, and ultimately concluding the story in a very dramatic (though a bit unrealistic) way.

While it starts off slow, you’ll find you won’t want to put it down as Boyne’s characters, specifically Tristan and Will, have incredible depth. The story itself is one that will keep you turning the page. I highly recommend The Absolutist and give it a 5/5.

Wilderness: A tale of tragedy and redemption

WildernessAs I’ve mentioned before, I tend to gravitate toward historical fiction, and Wilderness by Lance Weller takes place in alternating times during and 30 years after the Civil War, so this was right up my alley.

The story features Abel Truman, a man who has gone through unimaginable loss and pain in his lifetime living alone (well, with his dog) in a rustic old shack as a sick, old man in Washington State. Abel is clearly on his last legs, but is felt compelled to leave his shack and begin traveling on a mission of redemption – this journey is also filled with pain, perhaps, to me, the most troublesome of the story.

Older Abel’s tale is interlaced with his younger self experiencing the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, where he fought with the Confederates (though he was of northern descent). Abel, having gone through many trials and nearly losing his arm in fighting is nursed by an unlikely source – two escaped slaves. He develops a bond with his saviours, however there was suffering here as well, which eventually lead to him leaving for his life of solitude, and ultimately trying to return for his mission of redemption.

My biggest issue with the book was the flowery and descriptive prose that Weller used. At times it was fine, but other times I found it a bigger distraction, and felt like the book was dragging on.

Aside from the writing style, Wilderness is a story that is filled with quite a bit of pain and loss, but also some bright spots like the compassion people can have for one another, even under trying circumstances. If you’re a fan of this style, you’ll enjoy it, but it was too hard to get past for me. I give Wilderness a 2/5.

The Yellow Birds: A glimpse into the Iraq war

The Yellow Birds

For whatever reason, books taking place outside the first or second world war generally haven’t been able to interest me that much. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, however, was an exception, and I decided to read it on a whim.

The main character is 21 year old Private Bartle, who is fighting in the Iraq war and his experience looking out for 18 year old Private Murphy, who latches on quite early from their basic-training days, but through their experiences becomes a friend.

Powers draws on his personal experiences as a gunner in Iraq, specifically in Al Tafar, and his background in poetry, which clearly comes through in his writing. At first it was tough for me to get into, as I much prefer a story with more dialogue versus this very descriptive style, but as I became aware of the type of story being told, it made a lot more sense.

If you look at the reviews on Goodreads,  you’ll see mixed opinions on Powers’ writing, as well as his non-linear style of storytelling. From chapter-to-chapter, we jump back-and-forth from Bartle’s experiences in Iraq, to his post-war attempted re-acclimation to society. Like his writing style, I found this to be difficult at first, but as the story progressed, I found each chapter fed into the next, intertwining the two timelines and giving the reader a better understanding of Bartle’s conflicts, post-war.

In the end I was happy I took a chance on this one and though the book was small, and the story wasn’t terribly flashy, it got the point of what a soldier goes through during and after a war, and the tough decisions they must face in a chaotic environment where the wrong decision or a mistake means death, and survival is the goal of each day. I give The Yellow Birds a 4/5.

Winter of the World – the century-long tale that keeps getting better

Winter of the World - Ken FollettFittingly, shortly after winter began, I decided to start reading Winter of the World, the second book in Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy.

This tome is the follow up to Follett’s Fall of Giants which made my Top Five Books of 2011 and takes place during the events of The Second World War. The characters from the first novel have become secondary, and their children now have the spotlight as they deal with the uprising and reign of Hitler, Stalin, Franco and the Empire of Japan.

Compared to the first book, Follett continues his marvelous intertwining of real life historical events with fictional characters who are often present to give a unique perspective of Pearl Harbor, A-bomb testing, or war in Spain, Germany and Russa to name a few examples. Through his incredible knowledge and research, I ended up feeling like these people really existed in these times and played active roles in many aspects of the war.

It might have been that I knew what to expect, but this book was much easier to read, though with the amount of characters we have to follow it can get a bit confusing at times, especially since I hadn’t read the first in two years. Once I got around that, the characters all have a lot of depth to them, and I cared what happened in each of their stories, which is of course very important if you want to get invested in a book.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction you’ll want to pick up this series, just be prepared to be reading for quite a while if you’re a slow reader like me. I give Winter of the World a 4/5.

%d bloggers like this: