Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

My rating: 4.25/5

From Amazon: "North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.
"In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.
"The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist."
This book was powerful, angering, and eye-opening. I was not previously aware of North Korea's prisoner camps, and especially not that they've been around for 50+ years. I also didn't understand just how impoverished North Korea really is, especially as a whole (e.g., rice is a luxury even for the rich, and no one has reliable electricity), or how many people have defected from the country over the years.
I was amazed at the differences (which made a lot of sense, but to which I'd never given any thought) between people raised in the outside world and then imprisoned, and people born and raised inside prison camps. If that's all you've known and all you've learned to adapt to, it's incredible the way captors can shape you. I can't even fully comprehend it. 
I would have liked to have read more about how Shin feels, how he's adapted more recently from being an emotional and psychological prisoner with post-traumatic stress disorder to being able to speak to large crowds about his experiences; but at the same time, I almost felt guilty and helpless reading about his experiences without really knowing what to do to help. Along those lines, I wish there had been more information at the end of the book about how to help the organizations that aid North Korea refugees.
This book is straight-forward and easy to read. I would recommend it to anyone probably high school and older. The events depicted need to be better publicized. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Movie Review: Life of Pi

My rating: 5/5

From Amazon: "After a cataclysmic shipwreck, an Indian boy named Pi finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a ferocious Bengal tiger. Together, they face nature's majestic grandeur and fury on an epic journey of discovery."

This movie was every bit as beautiful,  visually and in narrative, as the previews made it out to be. Even beyond that.  This is now, without a doubt, one of my favorite movies.

I have not read the book, and in all honesty I may not now that I've seen the movie and know how it ends.  However, it must be an amazing story to read, judging by how beautiful and detailed the movie is.  It was a much deeper and much more serious story than I expected based on seeing the trailers, and the most fanciful story on a generally religious subject I've ever seen. It's culturally, philosophically, and religiously interesting, and I really want to see it again.