Saturday, 5 October 2013

Escape from Camp 14: A Chilling Memoir From A Hardened Survivor

A Review By: Amelia
In the year 2013 it seems almost unthinkable that human cruelty to other humans could be at such an all-time high. There’s constant strife in the Middle East and Africa, senseless gun violence in America, homophobic riots in Russia–the list goes on and on. In the last few years, North Korea has moved progressively higher up the list of human rights violations as we learn more about the mysterious, closed border country. Much of this is in due to journalist sneaking into the country or by defectors writing about their lives there. Escape from Camp 14 is one of those books.

The plot of Escape from Camp 14 is two thirds a biography about Shin Dong-hyuk and one third brief summaries on North Korean culture, politics, prisons, work camps, international and pretty much everything else about North Korea, which–for me at least–was brand new information. The author does an astounding job presenting it all and it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about.

Blaine Harden is an author and journalist who reports for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. He worked for The Washington Post as a correspondent in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the Times Magazine. All in all, he’s got some impressive news reporting experience under his belt. He was in South Korea trying to enter North Korea when he met the man whose story this book tells: Shin Dong-hyuk.

Shin Dong-hyuk is the boy soul who this book revolves around. He was born into Camp 14–the harshest and cruellest prisoner camp in North Korea–after having been bred between two other prisoners by the guards. He lived a hard life of forced labour, too little food, and untrusting of all those around him. He knew so little of everything that he didn’t realize there was a world outside the electric fences of the camp. Only when he met a prisoner that had lived outside the camp did he begin to dream of the outside world and of his escape.

Harden created a very compelling book. Shin’s story is really an ingenious way to inform the Western world about the mysterious, secretive, politically backwards, harsh, and dangerous country of North Korea. It’s a biography of misery that seeks to enlighten and teach and show the world that something needs to be done.

My final thoughts on Escape from Camp 14 are that it is a very eye opening book. I knew North Korea was trouble before reading this piece, but I wasn’t aware to what extent. They’re working their citizens to death in forced labour camps. They’re even going to the extreme of breeding prison camp babies for more labour and more poor souls to beat and abuse for ‘the sins of their parents’. If the upper class of North Korea is willing to do the things they did to Shin to hundreds of thousands of their own people, imagine what they’d do to everyone else if war ever broke out. It’s a truly scary, eye opening book about the state of the country and their place in the world.

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