Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

Escape from Camp 14
One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
by Blaine Harden
5 stars - an important book to read

From the dust cover:

North Korea's political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world's most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin's shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence - he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and his brother.

I feel inadequate to write a review strong enough for this book. Mr. Harden has done his research and while we only have Shin's word for what he experienced, his stories are supported by stories from other escapees from North Korean prison camps as well as research done by writers, journalists, and humanitarian groups.

The ugliness is complete. Total and unimaginable. Shin is born to two prisoners in one of North Korea's massive political prisoner camps. He is raised like an animal. He is constantly hungry, compelled to do whatever he can to survive. Even with that, he cannot always do the right thing and is subjected to horrific treatment that includes not only torture, but being forced to participate in the torture of others lest he and his family suffer worse fates. 

Mr. Harden tells the story unvarnished. Here is what happened to Shin. Here is what he did. Here is how he felt. 

There is also information regarding the prison camps in general and the society that has been created in North Korea. 

It's easy to distance oneself from this when just reading the occasional news article about North Korea. The book makes it all very real. Is there evil in the world? Are there evil people? Yes and yes. It's there,  and for the people of North Korea, there is little hope of escape. 

Don't look for a happy ending. The damage done to Shin is irreversible. Yes, he does escape and eventually finds his way to China, South Korea, and then the U.S. but how can one ever undo the lessons learned during childhood? Some things, once experienced, are part of a person forever. Haunt the person. Make it impossible to ever live "normally." Ever. 

You might be thinking, "Hey, Mango Momma, I don't want to read that book. It sounds scary and depressing." It is all of that, but read it anyway. Be aware, if nothing else. To know about the world is to be able to make better decisions in the world you inhabit. 

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the ugliness and/or brutality beyond our delightful and rather sheltered existence, in order to make us understand what's out there. It also makes me, at least, grateful for the wonderful part of the world which we inhabit.