Escape from Camp 14

Escapecamp14Book Review of: Escape from Camp 14

Author: Blaine Harden

Publisher: Viking/Penguin

Year: 2012

I picked up this book almost by accident in the Stephenson (MI) Public Library, mainly because it was on the shelf next to the True Crime. Which is understandable, because this book is about a Crime against Humanity not dissimilar to the Holocaust— the labor camps of North Korea.

This is the story of a boy born into one of those labor camps, Shin Dong-hyuk. (Shin is the family name, Dong-hyuk the personal name.) He was actually bred in the labor camp. His parents were rewarded with the opportunity to marry. They were NOT given a choice of spouse. Women who get pregnant outside of marriage in the camps— even if they were raped by the men in charge— are executed.

Why were his parents in the camp? Dong-hyuk never knew about his mother, but his father was in the camp not for anything he did, but because he had two brothers who escaped North Korea.

In Korean tradition family loyalty is incredibly strong. But the harsh condition of the labor camp breaks that down. As a small child Dong-hyuk thought of his mother as a competitor for food. He stole her lunch every day when she left him behind in their shelter to go to work.

School was mainly about memorizing the camp rules, and learning to inform on one another to survive. Dong-hyuk witnessed a child being beaten to death. And of course he had to be there whenever a prisoner was executed. Even when the executed prisoners were his mother and his older brother.

For years after Dong-hyuk’s escape from the camp, he told no one, but hid the guilt that he might have been the cause of his mother and brother’s death. He overheard them plotting escape, and informed on them. (Had he failed to do so and had that failure become known, he would have been executed as well.) He didn’t understand how horrible this deed would be perceived to be by normal Korean people who had a strong sense of family loyalty. When he did learn what families were about, he felt guilty and hid the fact of his informing for years.

There is much more about Dong-hyuk’s amazing experiences that is of great interest. This book will help you understand the mystery that is North Korea. But be warned, the things Shin Dong-hyuk experienced will hurt your heart, and perhaps move you to pray for the suffering people of North Korea.