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.

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.

Tina Fey’s Bossypants lacks juice

BossypantsI’m not one for reading gossip magazines or finding out about the dark and dirty secrets of celebrities, but when I started reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants I expected a bit more of an interesting story, from someone of her comedic writing calibre.

What I took from the book were stories that shaped Tina to become the woman she is today. We’re introduced to people like her father and events like when she first started improv comedy. As I read her stories, I wasn’t invested in her stories like I usually am, reading other memoirs.

The one positive takeaway I have is that she has done a lot to succeed in the “man’s world” of comedy and even become a powerhouse in television and movies to some extent.

I realize I probably am not the intended audience for this book (at one point she even called out that a guy wouldn’t likely be reading this), but I still feel that she could have connected more emotionally with the stories. I give Bossypants a 2/5.

If you’ve read the book, and are a fan, do you think I’m way off? What made it click for you?

The Help (movie) does The Help (book) justice

The HelpWhen I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett earlier this winter, I couldn’t help but put it down. At the time I wrote my review, I was happy to see a movie was coming out – I just hoped that it could live up to the book.

Starring the amazing Emma Stone as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, the story takes place in early 60s Jackson, Mississippi where racist tensions are at their thickest between whites and blacks. ‘Skeeter’ is a recent university graduate who really isn’t fit for the small town living int the south, and is looking to make it as a big city journalist, or writer. After some advice from a New York editor at Harper & Row, she finds an issue she’s passionate about, and that’s giving a voice to “the help” of Jackson.

One of the first maids to help by providing stories for her book was Aibileen, as played by Viola Davis. It’s Davis, along with Octavia Spencer as Minnie, that steal the show. Skeeter is the one that gives them the platform, but they’re the ones that bring the life and personality to the story. They’re also the ones that help gather the rest of the maids to help make the book a reality.

Minnie is such a strong woman and Spencer plays her perfectly – I’d even say it was an Oscar-worthy performance. Every time she was on screen it was hard to pay attention to anyone but her. In an ideal world, I’d say Viola Davis also deserves a nod for her role – it would sure be more deserving than that nod for Doubt.

The evil Hilly Holbrook, as played by Bryce Dallas Howard, has already been added to a list or two of top movie villains, so it goes to show you how disliked she is. What’s unfortunate, and I’m sure I’m not exaggerating, is that there were many Hilly Holbrooks across the States and even Canada. The story played it off as if all the other housewives were just sheep to whatever Hilly had to say, but she was probably closer to the norm for how many thought at the time. That being said, she was a great villain and Howard played her just as I’d imagined when reading the book.

I was worried the movie wouldn’t do the book justice after watching a few of the overly lighthearted previews. In the end, I’d say the movie did a great job of mixing humor with the serious racial tensions of the time and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. If you’re looking for a story that explains the racial tensions of the time, but one that isn’t too heavy for kids to watch, then this is a great place to start the conversation. I highly recommend reading the book first, then checking this one out. I give The Help a 5/5.

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