Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review of Escape from Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14:  One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk's harrowing life within a North Korean prison.  He is the only person known to have been born and raised in a North Korean prison camp to have escaped.  He was born in Camp 14 in 1982 and made his way to South Korea in 2006.  He moved to the U.S. in 2009 and lives in Washington, D.C. and Seoul.  Between 150,000 and 200,000 North Koreans work as slaves in its political prison camps.

Shin grew up in a prison camp because of the crime of a relative who fled to South Korea after the Korean War.  Shin's life inside the camp included seeing his mother as a competitor for food, being groomed by guards to snitch on anyone including and especially his family, and witnessing the execution of his mother and brother.

This is not only the story of Shin's experience in and escape from Camp 14 but is also a story of aftershocks--where does a physically and emotionally scarred individual who has endured real-life dystopian horrors go from there?  He explains, "I am evolving from being an animal, but it is going very, very slowly.  Sometime I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything.  Yet tears don't come.  Laughter doesn't come."

For a glimpse into the situation in North Korea from those living it, I also recommend Nothing to Envy:  Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick.  I haven't yet read but am interested in reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang:  Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Riguelot.  Escape from Camp 14 offers an often hard to take but important inside view of the country's human rights catastrophe.

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