Monday, March 4, 2013

Escape from Camp 14 - Book Review

Book: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
Author: Blaine Harden
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Publisher/Publish Date: Viking Adult / March 2012
Source: Audio Book from SF Public Library
Pages: Hardcover, 205
Other books from author: A River Lost & Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent
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When I see videos of the Holocaust it moves me to tears. I think I am still evolving--from an animal to a human. Shin Dong-hyuk
Imagine growing up in a prison camp; not knowing any other way of life. Having very little to eat, only one set of clothes which are replaced just once a year, and being forced to work 12 plus hours a day.

Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to have been born in a North Korean prison camp and later escape from it. It's a fascinating look into a secretive world, and what life looks like when you have no knowledge of a loving family, God, civilization, comfort, or joy. Born the second son of parents who were only allowed to see each other a few times a year, he was in the prison camp to atone for the sins of his grandparents.

The book covers his time in the camp, how he was able to escape, and then, once he made it to South Korea, how he worked on settling into his new way of life.

In South Korea, he was placed in a program that would help assimilate him to culture outside of North Korea. Teaching him and others who had left North Korea the truth about the world and the truth about their country. Unlike other defector's from North Korea, he was in some ways starting with a clean slate. He had not been taught the propaganda that the others grew up learning, so for example, when he was told who really started the Korean war, he easily accepted it.

With the help from people in the US who heard about his story he had the opportunity to travel and eventually moves to California, working as a human right activist. He struggled with guilt his discomfort in telling his story and being able to relate to the American's he would speak to. And since his escape was in 2005, this is still an ongoing story, so it sort of leaves us hanging at the end.

Though I had read the original Washington Post article about him (also written by this author), I appreciated that the book also covers recent events, such as how he's adjusting to life in the US. Now free, he's racked with guilt, finds it challenging to stay at one job, is learning about social norms and how to love. He is still working as a human rights activist, living in Washington state and Seoul, South Korea.

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