TRAVERSE CITY — Sometimes, a book can change world politics and foreign policies.
“Escape from Camp 14” by Blaine Harden, the National Writers Series April 9 visiting author, may help do that if recent international action is any indication.
Harden’s book is about Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped a notorious North Korean prison camp. It received brief mention last week in news reports and analyses after the United Nations’ top human rights body voted unanimously on March 21 in Geneva to launch a formal probe into North Korea for possible crimes against humanity.
Glyn Davies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special representative for North Korea policy, also cited the book and Shin by name in March testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He told the committee the United States supported the creation of a UN commission to investigate North Korea’s abuses against its own people.
“The world is increasingly taking note of the grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and demanding action,” he said.
Harden’s book, published last year and now translated into 24 languages, chronicles Shin’s 2007 escape from North Korea’s most notorious prison camp, where he was born. It details the first 23 years of Shin’s life in captivity that included torture, forced labor and witnessing at age 14 the execution of his mother and brother.
Shin wrote a book in Korean after his 2007 escape, exposing the horrific conditions and human rights abuses in Camp 14, considered the worst of the country’s six prison camps. However, it received little attention in South Korea.
Harden wrote a page 1 Washington Post story about it the following year and tracked Shin to Seoul, South Korea, to persuade him to be interviewed and work with him on the book.
“He was just bereft, heartbroken and broke when I met him,” Harden said. “Shin didn’t want to go through this without getting good results. What has happened in the last year is that we hoped for and better than I promised and it meant a lot to him.