Escape from Camp 14.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


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. 

11 comments:

  1. Since I'm pregnant, I'm reading a lot of fluff books. Just your description of the book, vague though it is, has me in tears. Loved "Kisses from Katie," and have been reading a lot of Christian romances (The Keeper, A Plain and Simple Heart, and House Divided).

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    1. Good choices for pregnancy, for sure!

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  2. This is on my list, too. We have similar reading lists, it seems. Do you ever go to McKays near Charlotte Avenue? My sister likes to stop after church sometimes, so I usually end up picking up some of the bargain books for $2.00 or less (I've only spent $4.00 on a book there, tops). Naturally, I've gathered quite a collection! One of my favorite authors is Jodi Picoult. She has a book called Plain Truth that's exceptionable. I'd recommend that one in a heart beat. I love most of her novels - haven't read one yet that I didn't enjoy. She's great about showing multiple sides to every story (literally, every story - murderers and children alike), researching and giving accurate details, and writing fantastic twists in the end.

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    1. I've definitely heard of it but never been! Thanks for the reminder - and the recommendation!

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    2. I ditto that recommendation for Jodi Picoult! Some get a bit tedious with the amount of court action there is but the bones of the story definitely puts things in perspective!

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  3. Reading some Henri Nouwen, Shane Claibourne, and Francis Chan right now. Getting a variety of perspectives in terms of books about Christian life. Have we lost sight of what love is? Have we forgotten the poor? What about the Holy Spirit? So much that we could do to improve as a culture and individually. Lots to think about...

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    1. Henri Nouwen is my all-time favorite. Love the other two, too.

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  4. If you're looking for life-changing, hope-affirming non-fiction, then I *cannot* recommend Half the Sky (written by husband and wife team Kristoff & WuDunn) highly enough. Written in such a way that it is both convicting and empowering to read, you finish that book feeling like there is *something* that you personally can do to improve the lives of women around the world. Beautiful. Top 5 book for me.

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    1. So great to know! Thank you! I've seen parts of the documentary but I don't think I realized it was a book too!

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  5. My two all-time favorites are The Long Road Home and Joey's Story, which I just finished last night. And it's already become one of my favorites. :)
    You can get both these books and more like them from CLP. They also have great kids' books. We bought a whole bunch of them for my little sisters.

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