Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dystopian Non-fiction

If you are familiar with adolescent literature at all, then you know that dystopian fiction is just as hot as vampires and all their other paranormal kin. The psychology behind both of these trends has been well-explored: most have a classic, if exaggerated, individual against society conflict that helps clarify what their adolescent readers are likely facing in their own development. There are some analysts, though, that consider these books as warnings.

Tonight on Sixty Minutes I saw a segment on a North Korean prison camp. I had heard of the book, Escape from Camp 14, before. Written by Washington Post reporter Blaine Hardin, it tells the tale of Shin In Geun, a man who was born in the eponymous prison camp and who, against all odds, escaped at the age of 23. Still, I had never stopped to consider what such a life would really be like. 

Growing up in that camp, Shin had no concept of any other world. Everything that any prisoner had came from the guards; there was never any opportunity for one person to give something to another. Love was unheard of, and to this day, Shin admits it is not an emotion he understands. He was conceived as the result of a reward his parents earned. By working hard, they were allowed to be "married" Ina union arranged by the camp administration. Their relationship did not include cohabitation or even raising their children together, however.

In the camp hunger was so pervasive that the prisoners routinely ate insects and rats. Public executions were common, and Shin considered them a welcome break in his routine. Children born in the camp had no idea that the earth was round, much less what else the world had to offer beyond the electrified fence.

And the tale goes on, as riveting and horrifying as any dystopian novel I have ever read. Except it's not fiction. So what do we do with that?

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