I just finished this book, Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden. I read it in a matter of days while I nursed, and I debated every few pages whether or not I'd recommend it for anyone else to read. To call it "shocking" doesn't even do it justice.
Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only known North Korean born in a total control prison camp to escape. His parents were political prisoners, for reasons that are vague at best, so Shin was condemned to a life of beatings, starvation, and hard labor. The depiction of his life in the prison camp is provocative, graphic, and completely heartbreaking. He knew nothing of the outside world and had no desire to escape until another prisoner (who had traveled outside North Korea) told him of the delicious food beyond the barbed wire. Driven by a life of chronic hunger, Shin equated freedom with an abundance of grilled meat. It was enough for him to make a miraculously successful escape to freedom.
I won't give away the ending, as there isn't really one. He's just a few years older than I am now. I was hoping his story would feel redeemed. And while he's doing much better than he was in the camps, the truth is that Shin will work through what he experienced for the rest of his life. There are no easy answers to what he went through. No quick cure for the nightmares that were his entire life.
I really believe that as believers, we're called to show love to a hurting, dying world. But if we don't even know what's going on beyond our little bubbles, how can we do that? I knew so little about North Korea until reading this, and now I'm fascinated (and will probably read a few more books about it). The brainwashing, the abuse, the malnutrition... it's almost unbelievable. This book urges the reader to care. And that, in my opinion, is a great start. A lot can happen when a group of people start to care. I know that now, whenever I hear of North Korea on the news, I will see Shin's face in my mind and be prompted to pray for the hundreds of thousands just like him.
So I guess I'm going to have to recommend this book, but not without a very strong warning. It is graphic. It is heartbreaking and mind boggling in every way. If you are human, it will change you. Looking at my own life, I've never been more thankful for the comparatively lavish amounts of food in my pantry or a soft bed to sleep on or the palpable love I feel from my family. I've never been more grateful for my country's government and military that protect my freedom.
On the list next... Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. It looks equally as graphic and heart wrenching, but has excellent reviews and won the National Book Award. I'm excited.
Anyone else read Escape from Camp 14? Thoughts? What's on your reading list these days? I'd love to know.