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Friday, November 23, 2012

Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden

Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea, a child of a 'reward marriage.' His parents were allowed to be together five nights a year. Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only person known to have been born and raised in a prison camp and to have escaped. Escape from Camp 14 tells the story of his early life, his escape, and his life now that he is a free man in the West.

His story is a chilling, disturbing, harrowing, horrifying story. He was raised to be a snitch. He was always hungry. He never knew love, but did not realize he was missing out. He was tortured. One of his fingers was cut off because he dropped a sewing machine. He ratted on his mother and older brother when he overheard their plans to escape, which led to their executions. Every facet of the prison experience worked to dehumanize Shin and the other prisoners.

He only came to realize there was a life outside the camp, a life of civilization, a life where many people are able to eat to fullness, when he became responsible to train a recently imprisoned man. The man filled Shin's ears with tales of the food available in other places. Shin eventually decided to escape with this new friend, more from hunger than from any desire for freedom.

Every part of Shin's story saddened me, but I think the saddest part of all was how his early experiences unfitted Shin to be in society. He has an extraordinarily hard time trusting anyone, or expecting them to trust him.

If you are interested in reading a behind-the-scenes, factual account of life in a North Korean prison camp, look no further. This is the book for you. However, I feel it only fair to warn you that it is so disturbing as to be stomach-turning.

Blaine Harden is to be congratulated for telling Shin's story in a straight-forward, non-histrionic manner. Shin's story is compelling enough without embellishment.

1 comment:

  1. This would be interesting to compare to Gulag Archipelago. When I am in the mood for depressing I'll give this one a go.