A few months before the headlines were filled with news of North Korea’s military actions and potential nuclear threats, I came across this intriguing book. Being an avid fan of old war movies, I thought this might be a book about POWs and the Korean War. When most people think about labor camps, political prisoners, and the atrocities reported, they picture the German death camps and POW camps during WWI, WWII, the Korean and the Vietnam Wars. It only took reading the jacket notes inside the front cover to realize this was a modern day story of a young man born in a North Korean political prison camp in 1982.
Blaine Harden, serving as the East Asia Bureau Chief of the Washington Post, tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a boy subjected to unfathomable physical and emotional torture, his extraordinary escape at age 23, and Shin’s current struggle to survive in the outside world. This intriguing story gives the reader insight into the secretive world of the most repressive totalitarian state still in existence today.
As I read Shin’s story and watched current news events in North Korea, it made his harrowing experience come to life, albeit gruesome at times. It was emotionally painful to realize that these types of atrocities continue to this day. Detailed accounts of torture, brainwashing by way of isolation from civilization, and the teaching of young minds to be snitches to protect their own lives. Families were simply forced to be in competition for food. Shin was made to witness the killing of his mother and brother to show him what happens to those who even speak of escaping. Being raised with such a lack of human affection made these horrifying situations more bearable at the time but has caused great difficulties in his current life.
Generations of families were held in the camps for the crimes of distant relatives to ensure that descendants would not rise up against the government. Shin is the only known person born in the camps who is also known to have escaped. His story will not only open your eyes to the struggle of one young man but also to the struggle of over 200,000 people still being held in the camps to this day. Although the camps have been aerially photographed and documented, the North Korean government continues to deny their existence. In an interview Shin was quoted as saying “I am evolving from being an animal.”
Check the WRL catalog for Escape from Camp 14.
It’s also available as a CD audiobook, read by the author.