Sunday, July 17, 2016

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

North Korea really is in its own little world. It is surrounded by two booming economies, yet it lives on as a totalitarian Stalinist police state. Wrongs against the state are punished to the third generation. Thus we get the experiences of people that are born in prison camps. Despite never having committed a wrong, they live their entire lives in a camp. Their parents may also have been innocent, with their only crime being having a relative that did something offensive to the state.

Shin Dong-hyuk grew up in one of these camps. His parents were allowed the privilege of marrying and having a child. He did not know anything outside of the camp. He witnessed the execution of his mother and brother. He barely knew what life was like outside of the camp. Hearing tales of meat and good food from a fellow prisoner whetted his appetite for escape. (Life in North Korea was glamorous compared to what he knew in the camp.) When he befriended another prisoner who had lived in China, they plotted an escape. Alas, his friend was killed on the electric fence, but he made it out alive. He wandered around North Korea for a while until he escaped into China, and then with the help of a journalist he ran into made it to the South Korean embassy and into South Korea and then the United States. Once he made it to South Korea, he became part of a support network of people that have been eager to help him (and use him to further the anti-North Korea cause.) He has had trouble adapting to the new life and reconciling his past behavior.

Escape from Camp 14 was told by the escapee through an American writer. Due to the dearth of information available about North Korea, it is very difficult to verify much of the story. (However, the author states that some google map imagery meshes with the locations in the story.) The story does seem convincing enough. It is eye-opening to realize that the concentration camps and their de-humanizing conditions still exist.

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