Sunday, September 9, 2012

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

This book, which read like an in-depth newspaper or magazine article, is written by former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden.  It is based on extensive interviews with Shin Dong-Hyuk who, as far as the author knows, is the only person to have been born and raised in a North Korean prison camp who successfully escaped to first China then South Korea.  The book is very well researched and includes supporting details from other scholarly works about North Korea and even links to google earth images which illustrate the camp which Shin escaped but which, together with other brutal prisons, are denied by the North Korean regime.  Shin's parents were placed in this prison for alleged crimes of their families.  Shin's father had two older brothers who defected; he never learned what his mother's "crimes" were.  His parents were matched up by the prison administration and permitted to breed - leading to Shin and an older brother being born in the camp and raised as prison labourers.  He never understood the concepts of love, family, honesty, freedom and, primary to him at a young age, having enough to eat.  We hear the story of Shin's childhood including his betrayal of his mother and brother, his torture in an underground prison within the prison, his near death from starvation and bullying after his return to school and his rare glimpses at human kindness from a fellow prisoner who nursed the wounds of his torture, a teacher who fed him extra food, and a new prisoner in the camp who had seen the outside world (including China) and gave him the information he needed to dream of escape.  We then follow his difficult escape, his travels from the camp through the North Korean countryside and his crossing into China as well as the troubles he has adjusting to China, South Korea and eventually the US.  The only good the author seems to find in his being raised in this way is that he was not brainwashed like other North Korean youth as these prisoners were not even thought worthy of this sort of education.  A very fascinating and powerful glimpse at a part of the world that is too often ignored.

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