Saturday, April 21, 2012
Friday, April 20, 2012
I've been a bookseller long enough to know that this book is going to be a tough sell. As memorable and heartbreaking a novel as any I've read in recent memory, New Finnish Grammar is saddled with both a dry title and unassuming packaging. It's unlikely that either of these things are going to grab a hold of you the way the extraordinary story hidden inside of this book will; you'd be forgiven for passing the book by, as I did for months. (Finland? Grammar? I'll stick with Fifty Shades of Gray, thanks.) But, when I finally gave in to the nagging voice that insists I read a certain book, I found myself caught up in a heartbreaking story about a man with no memory, no language and no homeland. Narrated in an earnest, straightforward voice, New Finnish Grammar manages nonetheless to speak to profound questions of identity and meaning, all while remaining as compelling as The English Patient.
Monday, April 16, 2012
I can't post my usual light musings because I just read Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, reporter Blaine Harden's story of a young man's torture in, and escape from, a North Korean prison labor camp.
There’s no lyrical levity to lighten up this insider account. It’s a graphic and straightforward reporting of Shin Dong-Hyuk’s starvation, torture by sadistic guards, watching family members executed, a classmate beaten to death, and Shin’s mental anguish after his escape.
There’s some competition, I realize, for what nation’s citizens live the most harrowing lives of deprivation and degradation. But, it seems little media light has been shed on the horrifying inhumanity occurring within North Korea’s grey fields visible on satellite imagery.
The US intelligence community is aware of North Korea’s estimated 200,000 prison camp slavery victims. I appeal to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (if he’s reading this) to hold the Kim regime accountable for its atrocities.
Though I know this sentiment will contradict our official snarky vantage in this progressive urban vacuum, but reading Shin’s experience made me grateful to be American (despite our country’s own inequities, including with criminal justice and incarceration).
I urge Panetta and anyone not conversant in the reality above the DMZ, outside the Stalinist sound stage of Pyongyang, to read Escape from Camp 14.