Disclosure: I got a free copy of this book to review.
Escape from Camp 14 written by Blaine Harden tells the true story of how Shin Dong Hyuk broke out of a brutal labor camp in North Korea, eventually making his way to the USA. Complete with maps and drawings, Blaine makes it easy for the reader to picture this harrowing story. I heard Shin Dong Hyuk speak at an event in Stanford before so his story was not new to me. However, reading about the details made it so much more real.
Born inside Camp No. 14 Shin Dong Hyuk was the product of a marriage that was itself a form of reward, a reward reserved for prisoners who modeled "good" behavior such as snitching on fellow prisoners. He survived by doing whatever he could to secure food. He grew up to be the model snitch, not even thinking twice to snitch on his own family.
This book provides an accurate and horrifying look into North Korea's infamous labor camps. A hopeless world where humans become driven by hunger and hunger alone. Where affection does not exist. Yet even in such a bleak place, compassion comes at unexpected times.
One of my former co-workers had this thing where she never watched depressing movies. She preferred romantic comedies and light hearted films. If you are of that variety, this book is not for you. You will not feel warm and fuzzy about life after reading this book. But I still recommend that you read this book. Why? Because it's true. These unbelievable things really happened, and are still happening.
I recently read Night by Elie Wiesel about his experience as a teenage Jew during the holocaust. It's another harrowing tale of narrow escape from death... through a road filled with hunger and misery.
Both of these books remind me that life is precious. It was for a reason that they survived. To tell us their story. Their story doesn't have to move us to dramatic change... but the least we can do is listen. And if enough of us listen, perhaps we can together make a world where this kind of shit doesn't happen.