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A real-life 'Hunger Games'
April 4, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

A real-life 'Hunger Games' - author Blaine Harden discusses his new book about one man's escape from a North Korean labor camp.

Full NPR Interview with Harden.
posted by Burhanistan (37 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
And a long excerpt published in the Guardian.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Harden was also a guest on today's Diane Rehm show.

Here's a video interview with the subject of the book, Shin Dong Hyuk.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Guardian article was posted to the blue already. It's probably the most depressing thing i've read in a really long time.
posted by chunking express at 12:03 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A real-life 'Hunger Games' - People have the weirdest ways of processing things.
posted by Artw at 12:03 PM on April 4, 2012 [18 favorites]


"1948 - a real life 1984!"
posted by KokuRyu at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


only person known to have been born in North Korea's prison camps and gotten out alive.

I'm not sure if being born into the camp is as notable as getting out alive, but there's also the autobiography The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which is about a young man's incarceration into one of those camps and his escape.
posted by crapmatic at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


This was the Book of the Week last week on Radio 4 and it was compelling listening.
posted by Kitteh at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A real-life 'Hunger Games' - author Blaine Harden discusses his new book about one man's escape from a North Korean labor camp.

Just as compelling.
posted by Fizz at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


> I'm not sure if being born into the camp is as notable as getting out alive

Yeah, one of the things that makes Shin's story unique is that he never knew life outside of the camp prior to his escape. He also was counting on his escape partner to help him navigate the way to China and beyond. So, he had only his instincts and sheer luck.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:42 PM on April 4, 2012


Recently
posted by euphorb at 12:54 PM on April 4, 2012


From the Guardian except:

"Let me hold you once," Uncle said, grasping both of Shin's hands tightly. Shin did not want to leave. He had never trusted – never loved – anyone before. In the years ahead, he would think of the old man far more often than he thought of his parents. But he never saw Uncle again.


I maybe crying right now.
posted by mlo at 1:31 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


*may be crying. yeesh.
posted by mlo at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2012


I hate to say it, but I think this story is bullshit. For example he escapes through an electric fence by climbing over the body of his friend who has just been electrocuted. In reality he would have been electrocuted himself. Lots of details like this are in the narrative which make the story dramatic and work in action movies; but don't work IRL. Life in North Korea is terrible but this does not seem to be a realistic portrayal.
posted by humanfont at 1:36 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


> In reality he would have been electrocuted himself.

He was. He walked around with some nasty burns before getting treated in China.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lots of details like this are in the narrative which make the story dramatic and work in action movies; but don't work IRL.

Yeah, like the part where the entire world sits back and watches it all happen. Thankfully, it's all just fiction.
posted by orme at 2:05 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


This story also set off my bullshit detector for some reason. If everyone is watched so closely, how did the brother sneak off visit his mother? Why was the old guy being kept alive in a cell? Why were they placed together? Why did the teacher give him food? How could he grow up as a functioning adult when raised such brutality?

No doubt things are quite terrible in North Korea, and Cambodia and the Holocaust have shown us how human beings can institutionalize and refine slaughter, murder and human degradation as is described in this excerpt from the book, but things just don't add up for some reason.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2012


An oppressive gulag system, a real life oppressive gulag system
posted by mattoxic at 2:49 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the people in those labour camps would be delighted to know that the American media is comparing their situation to the plot of a very shallow novel.
posted by anaximander at 3:31 PM on April 4, 2012


> I'm sure the people in those labour camps would be delighted to know that the American media is comparing their situation to the plot of a very shallow novel.

Oh, dear. Anyway, begging the pardon of the people in the DPRK camps, I'd be surprised if they ever get around to thinking about that kind of abstraction. What's more happening with the author's comparison is that he's fresh off of seeing a movie that made an impression, and now he's working through the comparison. The framing might be a bit distracting here, but I hoped it didn't get stuck around that.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hitler - A real life Voldemort"

Seriously, "A Real Life Hunger Games"? I find this a deeply offensive and...parochial way of describing this terrible nightmare of human suffering.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:40 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, KokuRyu and humanfont, care to explain why it's so important to you that you dismiss what is a story of someone's redemption with a lazy assertion that it's made up? Because what I see is a well attested story with multiple different interviews across different media outlets and breathtaking stories of callousness most commonly known from the Nazi regime but sadly all too common throughout human history. And these people should be listened to, because it's the only thing we can do for them. We owe it to them as a price of our privilege.
posted by ambrosen at 5:45 PM on April 4, 2012


Christ, that 'Hunger Games' reference was totally unnecessary and trivialising.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:41 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, KokuRyu and humanfont, care to explain why it's so important to you that you dismiss what is a story

Well, bear in mind that I never expressed about or downplayed the scale of suffering in NORK. However, it's important to be somewhat critical about what we read online, especially since, in my experience, so much of what is reported about northeast Asia (or any other non-English speaking country I guess) is highly, comically inaccurate; the Guardian is no exception to this. Plus, South Korea and North Korea are technically at war, and there is a lot of propaganda out there. But, once again, I never expressed doubts about the cruelty of the NORK regime.

Do you have some special information or insights (perhaps some links to Korean language stories) you could share about this story?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:43 PM on April 4, 2012


i interviewed two guys for readers' digest who said they escaped from north korea prison camps in the late '80s. the whole time i was wondering...is this a set-up? knowing how much the south koreans/american/cia had it in for the north, i figured it would be an easy scam to pull off with not much chance of exposure given the closed nature of the north. but i bought it in the end partly because of how the two came across in details like the ones that raised some flags for a couple of people here. the answers weren't all neat and cut and dried, the way you might expect if they were fabricated, but turned out to be complex and complicated and sometimes unexpected, and for that reason, i believed, real.
posted by ecourbanist at 6:58 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really think the Hunger Games analogy hurts his argument more than it helps it. For example, I'm reading the third book right now, and got cranky about his statement that "the evil regime is no match for Katniss Everdeen" because that's actually not true in the books, but that's actually not the point, at all.

However, I can understand why he made it. It gives him a hook for his op ed, and makes it more likely to get published, linked and talked about.
posted by lunasol at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2012


Sure, it's a hook. He could have used ceiling-cat bacon cupcakes as a hook and it would have worked just as well. Name-dropping "The Hunger Games" was clickbait for simple-minded twits to get people talking about HIS BOOK.

People can't just talk about North Korean internment camps in an intelligent, in-depth manner. In order to get the attention of the idiots, there needs to be some kind of tie-in with the fad of the month that everyone's getting ringtones for.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:52 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hitler - A real life Voldemort"

Must admit, I chuckled.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:20 PM on April 4, 2012


If everyone is watched so closely, how did the brother sneak off visit his mother?

Keep in mind, the place is as big as LA. Also, even though the escapee says that there is no sense of community, it is a society and they are not all just locked up in cells. The mother has a "home" where she cooks for her kids and the father has a "job" as a lathe operator (slave). The kids go to school. There are guards around, but it sounds like they don't watch your every step. So it doesn't sound implausible at all that the brother might have snuck off to his mother outside the regular schedule.

Why was the old guy being kept alive in a cell?

You mean why didn't they just kill him?
It seems like this is not a death camp like Auschwitz, but the prisoners are kept (barely) alive so that they can work.

Why were they placed together?

To snitch on each other? Because there aren't enough cells? To repay a favor?
Lots of possible explanations...

How could he grow up as a functioning adult when raised such brutality?

We don't know how functioning he actually is. The article says "He says he is learning how to be human and it is going very slowly."
posted by sour cream at 11:46 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first thing I thought when someone explained why people were "hungry" in "The hunger games" was that it wouldn't work very well. Then I remembered North Korea. Still, it's only a minority of people in the country in these camps.

We actually had a thread recently

By the way, these are the same kind of conditions that Werner von Braun used when he was building V-2 rockets, over 20,000 workers died at the Dora/Mittelbau factory, either through starvation or exhaustion (or probably both) along with some who were just shot or hanged. Von Braun personally selected slaves from Buchenwald to come work at his V-2 factor, which actually had a higher death rate.

The conditions there were so horrible that when Albert Speer visited, he was horrified and demanded that improvements be made, and he was later sentenced to 20 years at the Nuremberg trials for being a nazi war criminal.
posted by delmoi at 11:46 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Entertainment Weekly recently described the Costa Concordia wreck as "real life Titanic"
posted by gngstrMNKY at 11:50 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, "A Real Life Hunger Games"? I find this a deeply offensive and...parochial way of describing this terrible nightmare of human suffering.
I'm not a fan of YA fiction in general, but The Hunger Games was meant as a critique of people not paying attention to the horrible things in the world, the author claimed she came up with the idea while channel surfing and seeing the Iraq war juxtaposed with reality shows.

Maybe it's minimizing, but The Hunger Games is supposed to address this kind of thing.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 PM on April 4, 2012


Entertainment Weekly recently described the Costa Concordia wreck as "real life Titanic"

That's... amazing.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


" the author claimed she came up with the idea while channel surfing and seeing The Running Man, The Lottery, Battle Royale, Network, Rollerball, Death Race 2000, etc."

Fixed that for her.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:14 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just read the guardian article and it was fascinating and horrifying.

I did wonder about this sentence, though: "The guards taught the children they were prisoners because of the "sins" of their parents but that they could "wash away" their inherent sinfulness by working hard, obeying the guards and informing on their parents." It seems like a very Christian, Western metaphor. Is the idea of redemption, especially through water, really so cross-culturally widespread?

Also, it is horrifying to imagine how incredibly starving that woman must have been to beat her son with a shovel when she finds he has eaten her lunch.
posted by lollusc at 5:28 AM on April 5, 2012


Do you have some special information or insights (perhaps some links to Korean language stories) you could share about this story?
KokuRyu

We have these and many others articles on this story, and the story itself. You're the one doubting it. Do you have some special information or insights (perhaps some links to Korean language stories) you could share about this story?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:32 PM on April 5, 2012


No, I do not; I said I was some sort of expert on North Korea, but I can tell you (as I said upthread) that I've learned to be cautious when reading any English-language reporting about anything relating to Northeast Asia. You got irritated when I expressed some doubts about the story (but did not express any doubts about the cruelty of the North Korean regime).
posted by KokuRyu at 4:11 PM on April 5, 2012


Here's the thing: he's the only person born into a North Korean labor camp who has ever escaped. So for every one like him, there must have been, what, hundreds? thousands? who tried but who died under interrogation or who were shot or electrocuted while trying to escape. For that reason, his story will necessarily be quite exceptional, and involve some almost-unbelievable set of coincidences that enabled him to survive. Maybe the current to that part of the electrical fence shorted when his friend was electrocuted, enabling him to crawl over the dead body in contact with the wire without being fatally electrocuted himself. (I know nothing about electrical fences, but I'm sure there is some possibility of momentary failure, as there is with basically everything.) With Holocaust survivor stories, there is usually a similarly bizarre set of coincidences and rare failures on the part of the would-be murderers, and you might think "wow, that sounds kind of unbelievable," until you remember that for every one who made it through this experience, there were thousands who didn't, and so that one-in-a-thousand chance is going to involve exactly that: a one-in-a-thousand chance.
posted by palliser at 1:02 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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