Thursday, August 9, 2012

Escape From Camp 14

Escape From Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
By Blaine Harden
Viking, 2012.  205 pgs.  Biography

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a North Korean political prison camp.   Up until his remarkable escape, his entire world was limited to the area within an electric fence.  Tales of the world beyond that fence, where food was shockingly plentiful and varied, were mere rumors related by other prisoners.  Life was harsh and hopeless.  Shin’s experiences would include beatings, tortures, and eventually watching the execution of his mother.  As the title assures, Shin does escape the confines of Camp 14.  But finding true freedom from the mental and emotional scars of his youth may turn out to be the most remarkable part of his odyssey.

This rare glimpse into the lives of the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans kept in these squalid camps is shocking.  Because so few prisoners escape the camps, Harden was unable to verify a large portion of Shin’s story which changed several times during Harden’s research.  However, readers are made aware of the lack of corroboration and Shin’s difficulty in trusting his biographer adds to the psychological portrait of this intriguing young man and his fascinating journey.


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