I’ll read anything that looks interesting. Thrillers. History. Politics. Science. Doesn’t matter. And so if there’s one thing that’s certain in life beyond death and taxes it’s that there will be a book – or, even better, several – under the Christmas tree each year.
And one of those books this year was “Escape from Camp 14”. (There wasn’t a single mention of a motorcycle anywhere in the book but I thought it important enough to put this brief review online so that any of you that might be interested will pick it up and read it.)
If you’re not familiar with the book, the subtitle spells it out pretty clearly: “One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West”.
I’ve never really paid much attention to North Korea. Sure I’ll shake my head at yet another crazy pronouncement from Dear Leader, and worry for a few seconds every time he rattles his sabre at South Korea, Japan, or the US (“The Great Satan”). I am also minimally aware of the deprivations faced by the general population, the continued malnourishment of the citizenry, and the continuous brainwashing practiced by its leaders, but have no sense of how anything I can do would make the slightest bit of difference. I may actually watch “The Interview” some day just to see what all the fuss was about and to poke a symbolic stick in the eye of Kim Jong Un, but that’s about it.
But this book made me angry. Angry that such a depraved regime could still exist in the 21st century. Angry that people could be (legally) treated worse than animals by sadistic overseers (for example, one of the camp’s 10 rules was “Anyone who does not acknowledge his sins … will be shot immediately.”). Angry that China (no bastion of human rights itself, but a beacon of light compared to North Korea) would continue to prop up such a brutal regime. Angry that a man can reach adulthood knowing only fear and without any concept of love, sharing, or even closeness to another human being. And angry that there seems so little the West can do about it.
This is a small book – only 200 pages – and an easy read (“easy” in the sense that I finished it in a day; not the subject matter which is most decidedly NOT an easy read). The author takes the reader through the horrors of life (a misnomer if there ever was one) in Camp 14, Shin’s daring escape, his bewilderment at finding a world outside the fence he never knew existed, his psychological scars, and ultimately to his current situation where he continues to struggle with feelings, emotions, and his personal sense of guilt.
It’s a powerful book, and certainly worth a read. Highly recommended.