Blaine Harden Billed as ‘introducing the incredible story of Shin Dong-hyuk - the only person born in a North Korean gulag ever to escape’, this book is very topical, given the recent regime change (or rather lack of change) in North Korea and the publication of a report by the US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea which estimates up to 150,000 people are currently held in the country’s unofficial gulags.
But, more than topical, Escape From Camp 14 is both educational and shaming.
From the pen of a former Washington Post bureau chief and prize-winning author, the writing is, as you would expect, concise, professional and to the point.
There is no embroidery. But then none is needed with a true story of this strength. In fact, were it not for Harden’s impeccable credentials it would be almost too much to believe.
The idea of North Korea as a rogue state has long been accepted and rumours of prison camps have circulated for years with satellite pictures even showing the locations.
But the harsh truth, that these places not only incarcerate political dissidents (unjust though that undoubtedly is) but also three generations of the families of those judged to have insulted the regime, is simply obscene.
That children are born into slavery, their parents’ union simply a matter of the guards’ whim, and then worked to death knowing nothing of a world outside the walls. That informing on fellow prisoners is not just encouraged, but rather a way of life and a means of survival. That a child could be locked up and tortured for months on end. This all seems beyond belief in our modern world.
That it is presented so disapassionately helps establish that credibility and with it the questions of why and what our governments are doing about it.
Escape From Camp 14 is not an easy read by any means. It’s not even a particularly enjoyable one but it’s certainly a story that needed to be told.