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author of this non-fiction book was the NE Asian correspondent for the
Washington Post when he first encountered Shin – the only known escapee from a
North Korean political labor camp who was actually BORN there...he was the
result of a 'reward' marriage between two prisoners who likely worked
hard and snitched on fellow prisoners to earn the right to 'marry', i.e. sleep
together, five times a year. Shin was their second son.
14 is one of 15 labor camps that have been verified
by satellite photos to exist in North Korea. Enemies of the
royal family of dissidents are sent there to mine coal and farm for the state.
Although N. Korea has denied charges by human rights advocates, other
prisoners have escaped to South Korea or China to tell tales similar
to Shin's and verify that the horrific places do exist.
makes Shin's story so unique is that, because he was born there and had never
even heard of the rest of the world, he had no values or knowledge that weren't
instilled in him by his 'teachers’ – the camp guards.
viewed his mother as competition for food.
watched a classmate beaten to death by a teacher for having five kernels of
corn in her pocket.
himself participated in beating other children for infractions real and
imaginary, mostly involving trying to survive on a diet or corn porridge,
pickled cabbage and cabbage soup every day of their lives. The kids would
sneak away to catch and roast rats or insects in order to stay alive.
was also tortured, along with his father, for the attempted escape of his
mother and brother. Convinced that the duo knew nothing of the plot, they were
released for a front row seat at the mother and brother's execution.
would tell you that he hated his mother. He is certain that she and his
father both hated him. At the time, hate, love, and all other emotions
were foreign to the boy. All he knew was to obey, try to
survive, and to earn favor by snitching on others.
is an unbelievable story. While reading it you will feel as if you are
reading about a dystopian society – like in Hunger
Games or a fantasy novel. But, as Harden points out, even though it
has no celebrity spokesperson like Darfur has George Clooney or Tibet has the
Dalai Lama, Camp 14 exists just the same.
This is a horrifying read, but definitely an
eye-opener. Everyone concerned about the welfare of others
should read this book.