ELIE WIESEL, BIGGEST CHRONICLER OF THE HOLOCAUST, IS NO MORE..

The article originally appeared on DailyO – as – Life and times of Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and chronicler. 

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), the 1986 Peace Nobel Laureate and a Holocaust survivor, is no more with us. He passed away last night. He was 87. He was a Jew born in Romania, was forced to the horrors of an Auschwitz life and became a US citizen and a Boston University professor.

Elie Wiesel will always be remembered as the most haunted voice of the Holocaust years – the years when he somehow survived the concentration camps run by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the Second World War from 1939 to 1945 – the concentration camps that exterminated millions in a systematic manner only because Hitler and his people considered them inferior human beings. They saw them as the problem and the only final solution was to wipe them out.

Elie Wiesel was the biggest chronicler of the Holocaust days – writing over 50 books – based on his haunting memories. His autobiographical book Night came to me as a soul-stirring experience.

Before it, I was largely focused on documentaries, visual media, news reports and studies on the Holocaust to know more about the largest pogrom of modern human history, to feel its pain, to realize its message. But the experience after Night transcended all and made the Holocaust memoirs the major part of my Holocaust reading, of the past, as well as the ongoing ones.

The sudden change, from the peaceful childhood days to a life of utter debasement, where there were no children, no adults, no males, or no females, just living human corpses, waiting to be gassed and burned, brings poignant thoughts that shake your very existence. His life and work remind how debased the humankind can become and how resilient the humanity can come out to be.

WHAT ELIE WIESEL’S TIMELESS CLASSIC ‘NIGHT’ TELLS US: DARK SIDE OF THE MAN THAT CAN KILL MILLIONS

Writing about the book Escape from Camp 14, biography of a North Korean concentration camps survivor Shin Dong-hyuk written by an American journalist Blaine Harden, reminded me about Elie Wiesel’s Night, the memoir that details THE DEGENERATION OF LIFE in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War

While Escape from Camp 14 is about the journey of a man, born and forced to live an animal life, and how he finds the human in him; Night is about how a man, born to lead a human life, is forced to a life that is worse than of animals.

At over 120 odd pages (the Penguin India edition), the ‘slim’ Night numbs you by the simple words of confusion about life, faith, death and relations as told by a young Elie Wiesel reflecting on the tormenting days of his life in different concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Night begins normally with observations of a teenager about a quiet Jewish countryside in a remote town Sighet, under Hungary’s occupation then. It tells how a typical Jewish family lives there, how a boy dutifully tries to be religiously observant, how the community there feels insular to the outside world’s activities and concerns, under an ongoing world war then, believing that it cannot reach them.

Night-ElieWiesel

(Image courtesy: Night book cover; Elie Wiesel’s photograph from Nobelprize.org)

Night exposes the inherent human weakness – clinging to the very last of the failing hope that the God would come and exercise some miracle – we see it in Elie’s father when he believes that something can still be worked out when almost of the Jewish community is already sent to Auschwitz; we see it later on as the memoir progresses when the Jews in the concentration camps think every now and then about the world war coming to an end while praying to the God; we see it in the escapist thoughts when the Jews of Sighet initially take German soldiers as the good Samaritans even if their every freedom is curtailed the very day German soldiers arrive in the town; we see it on every such occasion when the characters of this memoir think that they are not going to be gassed whenever they get a comparatively lesser fiendish security guard.

Night is representative of the dark side of the man that can poison and kill millions. Millions of Jews were gassed, burned and exterminated in furnaces and ‘Night’ tells that sordid tale through the eyes of teenager Elie who struggles with his conscience first, about his trust in the God that he finds incoherent with the acts that begin the day they board the cattle train to Auschwitz, and grows on to degenerates into the cattle mentality of surviving anyhow even if it means sacrificing your father and shapes ultimately into a distrust in anything like the very existence of the God. What else can be expected when someone becomes a mute spectator to the Nazi killing machine of Hitler’s Germany – the ‘Selection’ of humans as animals – gassing and burning them in thousands daily. Elie survived months in the concentration camps while living near to those crematoriums.

Night is not just a memoir from the Holocaust literature; it is also a sensitive book on father-son relation. Night tells us about the internal struggle of the human conscience when Elie writes about that ‘night’ that changes all. The night they board the train makes their human comrades inhuman at the very go – the way his community people beat a old woman crying consistently after her family is taken away. No sympathy – just the savagery of the jungle to survive – that ‘night’ began it. Elie watches himself becoming a different person, a debased survivor. Though he remains very much a father’s son, with his father being the only symbolic emotive quotient and support throughout his captive life in the concentration camps, at times he thinks of him as burden, only to blame himself the next moment. There come moments when he watches his old, frail father being brutally beaten by the guards but he tries to avoid the eye contact.

And teenager Elie was just one out of the millions in the concentration camps, who were forced to think like this; who inherited this internal struggle for years to come; who got unending ‘night’ hours imprinted in their conscious to haunt them as these words of Elie Wiesel during his Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize sum up:

“Can this be true?” This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”

©SantoshChaubey

GO SET A WATCHMAN: WHAT DOES IT SAY?

Atticus Finch, the greatest American hero as voted by the American Film Institute. And Atticus has been chosen so for his character traits – anti-racial, humanely and straight family man.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ gave us Atticus Finch in 1960. Since then, 55 years have passed. All these years have added to the aura of the character making him the cultural icon of generations – the aura that also added to the anticipation run towards ‘Go Set A Watchman’, Harper Lee’s second book after 55 years of publication of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a timeless classic and its popularity was amplified globally by the movie of the same name based on it. The movie came within two years of the book – in 1962 – and the quick film adaptation took the appeal of the book even far and wide.

In fact the global appeal of Atticus Finch, outside America, owes largely to the film version of the movie and has become a cultural phenomenon with changing times – in times when racism in legally illegal.

So, it was natural that ‘Go Set A Watchman’ became the most awaited book in recent times when Harper Lee announced that she was breaking her vow – never to get a book published again. A pro-racism Atticus Finch, the 180 degree departure from the character that we inherited from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, added intense rounds to everything that was being said and discussed about the book.

The book, when out on stands, met with mixed reactions.

‘Go Set A Watchman’ raises more questions as we move ahead with the plot leaving the reader grope in dark with many unanswered questions. The published book is essentially a sequel to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. There will be many who know about the work but haven’t read the book or seen the movie. They, too, will be tempted to have the book based on intense reviews and word of mouth publicity around it. And they will find such questions nagging them.

But let’s see the scoring points first:

The book is not sequel to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. In fact, as reported, it was written prior to the publication of Harper Lee’s classic. Coming after 55 years of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, it needed some rework, but as Harper Lee had said she would never publish a book again, the lapses are tangible. But the rework on Jean Louise Finch as making her narrator and main protagonist is logically done here. It was logical to read the next story after ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from her POV.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was idealistic. ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is realistic. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ came at a time when legal racial segregation was fighting last phase of its battle in America. The book added to the sentiments in stirring a nation’s conscience and Atticus Finch became a cultural symbol of anti-racial struggle in the US society. ‘Go Set A Watchman’ has come at a time when the US is seen largely anti-racist. Now is the time when people can look back in the past, as done from time to time, in movies, in books, to see how the people of South saw racial discrimination then.

The silent answer by Calpurnia (page 160) – when Jean Louise Finch asks her – is pensively and profoundly expressed by ‘bearing the burden of her years’. More than anything else, this sentence captures the essence of the theme the book is based on.

Character development of Henry Clinton is realistic, is according to the times prevalent in ‘then south’. He may sound submissive at times, but this he does for his love – and that is understood. And so is understood his logic when he justifies his and Atticus Finch joining Citizens’ Council meeting and their views on racial segregation – and his views of staying back and conforming to social norms of ‘then Maycomb’.

Transition of Jean Louise Finch characters, though, deserves more words, her meeting with reality of the day (and of the society) is logically explained in the book – ‘prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends – ‘uncle Jack Finch’ tells Jean Louise (page 270-271). Irrespective of the word flow between Jean Louise and her uncle in chapter 18, the sentence essentially corresponds to the realization Jean Louise has – from Scout/Jean Louise’s faith in Atticus Finch that prejudices her thoughts to the extent that she starts looking at everything from her POV and Atticus becomes a repulsive figure in her life – to a POV that retains her faith in Atticus Finch, his father and a social man of Maycomb.

Now, let’s see where the book leaves room for questions with unexplained developments and loose plot elements.

Well, for me, the book really begins with its 100th page when the element, being debated day in and day out, around the world, is introduced – that gives us first indication that Atticus Finch has ‘turned’ racial.

The book is basically about Scout’s struggle on this revelations – that her father, the man for all seasons in her life, and his best man whom she contemplates to get marry are ‘segregationists’ – with ‘segregation’ being an act on racial lines against the black people.

But the book, till its 100th page, doesn’t indicate that this one is going to be the central plot. In my opinion, the book fills first 100 pages in telling us the plot elements that are so routine – especially when you read ‘Go Set A Watchman’ after reading and watching ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

There are pages in the book that readers can scan and pass. Yes, a book requires pages to set its theme, to introduce the plot elements, but 100 pages for it are too long for a 278 page book the version that I have – or for any book. (William Heinemann: London)

Even for many fans of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, this is like ‘questionable’ jump, from one plot theme to the unexpected next. Because, till 100 pages, the author doesn’t give us even a hint about racial preferences and thoughts of a grown-up Jean Louise Finch. And then there she is – in words that begin to weave something from 100th page.

The book also doesn’t delves into characterizing and developing who Jean Louise Finch is. Her preferences about life, her views about social issues including racial discrimination (including segregation and segregation itself) desire words and pages that Harper Lee has not given her.

‘Go Set A Watchman’ doesn’t explain her internal struggle on racism before we are suddenly thrust into the sudden transition of character’s thought process on the issue. The book needed to create a background here with personal memoirs and experiences – especially in terms of Scout’s life in New York – but Harper Lee probably left that to the readers.

The book explains well about Scout’s coming of age about her father but leaves much to be done on developing a character that is sensitive and make opinions but doesn’t fight.

To continue..

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

ELEMENTAL ELEMENTS OF ‘GO SET A WATCHMAN’

MY FIRST THOUGHTS ON ‘GO SET A WATCHMAN’

‘GO SET A WATCHMAN’ – GO, PLACE YOUR ORDER!

The book is not sequel to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. In fact, as reported, it was written prior to the publication of Harper Lee’s classic. Coming after 55 years of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, it needed some rework, but as Harper Lee had said she would never publish a book again, the lapses are tangible. But the rework on Jean Louise Finch as making her narrator and main protagonist is logically done here. It was logical to read the next story after ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from her POV.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was idealistic. ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is realistic. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ came at a time when legal racial segregation was fighting last phase of its battle in America. The book added to the sentiments in stirring a nation’s conscience and Atticus Finch became a cultural symbol of anti-racial struggle in the US society. ‘Go Set A Watchman’ has come at a time when the US is seen largely anti-racist. Now is the time when people can look back in the past, as done from time to time, in movies, in books, to see how the people of South saw racial discrimination then.

The silent answer by Calpurnia (page 160) – when Jean Louise Finch asks her – is pensively and profoundly expressed by ‘bearing the burden of her years’. More than anything else, this sentence captures the essence of the theme the book is based on.

Character development of Henry Clinton is realistic, is according to the times prevalent in ‘then south’. He may sound submissive at times, but this he does for his love – and that is understood. And so is understood his logic when he justifies his and Atticus Finch joining Citizens’ Council meeting and their views on racial segregation – and his views of staying back and conforming to social norms of ‘then Maycomb’.

Transition of Jean Louise Finch characters, though, deserves more words, her meeting with reality of the day (and of the society) is logically explained in the book – ‘prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends – ‘uncle Jack Finch’ tells Jean Louise (page 270-271). Irrespective of the word flow between Jean Louise and her uncle in chapter 18, the sentence essentially corresponds to the realization Jean Louise has – from Scout/Jean Louise’s faith in Atticus Finch that prejudices her thoughts to the extent that she starts looking at everything from her POV and Atticus becomes a repulsive figure in her life – to a POV that retains her faith in Atticus Finch, his father and a social man of Maycomb.

3

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

MY FIRST THOUGHTS ON ‘GO SET A WATCHMAN’

Till first 142 pages of the book, that I have finished so far..part III..chapter 8..100th page..

Well, for me, the book really begins with its 100th page when the element, being debated day in and day out, around the world, is introduced – that gives us first indication that Atticus Finch has ‘turned’ racial.

The book’s central protagonist is Jean Louise Finch or Scout Finch, daughter of Atticus Finch – and the book is basically about her struggle on these revelations – that her father, the man for all seasons in her life, and his best man whom she contemplates to get marry are ‘segregationists’ – with ‘segregation’ being an act on racial lines against the black people. The first 142 pages tell us so.

That is the crux of all expert analyses and reviews on the most awaited book of this century. But the book, till its 100th page, doesn’t indicate that this one is going to be the central plot. In my opinion, the book fills first 100 pages in telling us the plot elements that are so routine – especially when you read ‘Go Set A Watchman’ after reading and watching ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

There are pages in the book that I have read so far, 142 pages of it, that readers can scan and pass. Yes, a book requires pages to set its theme, to introduce the plot elements, but 100 pages for it are too long for a 278 page book the version that I have – or for any book. (William Heinemann: London)

Even for many fans of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, this is like ‘questionable’ jump, from one plot theme to the unexpected next. Because, till 100 pages, the author doesn’t give us even a hint about racial preferences and thoughts of a grown-up Jean Louise Finch.

And then there she is – in words that begin to weave something from 100th page.

For me the book begins there – at 100 page.

Let’s see what is in store with next 136 pages.

I have read and watched ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ – certainly a work of its own kind – a book and a movie on it that have become timeless classics – a work that is a historical event in awareness against racial profiling.

There will be many who have just watched the movie. There will be many more who know about the work but haven’t read the book or seen the movie. They, too, will be tempted to have the book based on intense reviews and word of mouth publicity around it.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

KOS KOS SHABDKOSH’: A REFRESHING BOOK ON A SUBJECT SO BASIC TO US..

You can’t debate satire. Either you get it or you don’t.
Michael Moore
(According to the Brainy Quote)

And I got it….but in my own way.

A book in your language with an interesting subject matter, now that hasn’t happened with me in a long time.

Until this book happened.

Last year, from the Delhi International Book Fair, I purchased many Hindi language satires but I couldn’t read beyond a few short stories and Srilal Shukla’s ‘Raag Darbari’. But when I had my hands on this book, I could not resist the temptation of reading it and writing on it.

Because I knew the person as a human-being, as an author and above all, as a senior.

‘Kos Kok Shabdkosh’ by Rakesh Kayasth ji or Rakesh sir that I address him is an aptly worded book of thick proportions and is hilariously stinging with its satire and the thing about it is, it touches aspects of our day-to-day lives, intrinsically a part of us, whether we care for, or we don’t care for, or we have to care for. It speaks volumes for it.

Situations in the book are from real life and characters have their presence in our routine thus. Accordingly, the expressions are real life. In a thought-provoking way that we may think, that we may not think, that we have to think.

I have spent time with him and I know a bit about him. I also try to write and I know one has to live the experiences, in a possible way, in any possible way – thinking, feeling, living, observing – to write about them.

And Rakesh sir did it with an élan that made me sit with his book and finish it once I got free. It was thoughtful, the way I look back on after reading it. And it basically arises of the fact that I can correlate with the themes deliberated upon in the book.

Satire is a beautifully meticulous art where we say everything, where we see every one naked metaphorically, where we write about everyone in a similar vein. It may be subtle or it may direct. But it hits hardest, with a thought-provoking theme that runs along.

It is an art form – a very serious art. I knew Rakesh sir had a fine grip over it and therefore, I was waiting for this book.

It talks about our day to day lives the way we experience. His 43 themes are events in our lives that we always notice, that we cannot run away from, if we have the grey-matter. They are situational reports impregnated with dose of satire that locks you with a smile. And while smiling, you also start thinking – a way to go for a work of satire.

He writes with a blend that is natural, that is every day, taking us from the high of a laugher to a high of smile to the high of thinking.

The book includes varied experiences that we live every day, days that make for our weeks – personal and professional – the many lives we live.

He starts from the ubiquitous trait in every one’s life. He begins saying ‘execrating someone and finding to execrate someone and eating’ are essential to humanity – a work that everyone is engaged in. These are so basic and evergreen activities that we do it naturally – day after day – and seldom think about.

Going by the human nature – it is so perfectly said here – a perfect beginning for a satire setting the tone. And it goes on well and it ends well.

On storytelling front, he begins with the perfectionism of bosses, that is all acceptable. Questioning them is like questioning the ethos of the day. He talks about regularity and daily chores of meetings, eternity and universality of foolishness, versatility of having alternatives, ephemeral relevance of a parliament in a democracy of the day in the times we are living in, secularity and non-partisan methodology of a Lokpal that is yet to be institutionalized, linguistic formations of the mother-tongue, Gangetic flow of riots, amenability of employability, usability of the common-man and the wealth that generated commonly for uncommon people and purposes.

Every day routine with elements that happen in our professional lives, shaping or messing with our personal lives. Irrespective of we think or we do not think, we constantly meet with such elements.

I smile and I think.

On the way, he picks up the thread of life in a liquor bottle that is never to be lent out. His words give us the everlasting wisdom of a black & white life that is always grey and tries to find its meaning in any possible way, on any possible platform – in different activities, in different attachments, on different stages and in different phases of life – in life’s intricacies, in life’s simplicities, in its etiquettes, in its methods – in life’s compromises, in life’s sacrifices, in life’s attitude towards living it and in life’s derelictions.

Smiles, laughter – these are boons for life and Rakesh sir reiterates it in his own style contracted to the blessings of life outwitting the effects of a low life and of bad days.

His to-the-pointedness is immaculate when he writes about utility and futility of the likes of Tejpal and their presence and absence in social parlance. Yes, the magnetism of being relevant is always on the lips, like it is being locked there, never to dissolve.

Reaching out to someone to making someone reach out to us may be seen from any perspective. It may have similar or opposing connotations based on life itself. Universality of someone’s greatness is judged by it and is not judged by it – again based on the living the person has.

Like written in a related post, I used to discuss Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation with Rakesh sir and once visited the Ramlila Ground with him after the work. I personally feel betrayed by Arvind Kejriwal now and I loved the way he has written about him, though the book is written well before his second term in Delhi. He is a living example of fall from grace, losing the essentiality of the element of doubt that was there, giving him an upper hand over the others.

His touch in his words is natural, coming from the experiences on developments in life. He reflects on elements happening in lives of Indians – forming the society, forming its polity and forming this country.

If we have to live, we need to relieve ourselves. Yes, we would laugh on this basic observation, but we would accept that it is basic to the living. Like darning someone, eating and relieving oneself is basic to human existence and so satire that runs through these lines, pinched us. It is refreshing to read how politics is one of these basic needs of life and how politics believes in giving us a reflection rather than the real thing – much like the reflection of brand commoditised politically and the viability of a commercially brand.

It’s the matter of baseline and a baseline is always subjective, based on individual preference. People may see it in the mindset because it so individualist, so what if it is almost universal in India. Rakesh sir believes (and most of us believe) that politicians know the art of levitating people’s hopes to win elections, to win the war of sentiments. Being an affluent or being a poor, being a commoner, or even being a terrorist – the baseline is always there – open to individual interpretations – interpretations that are manipulated most of the time.

When he raises the point of playing the national anthem in cinema halls before a movie, he finds many friends there, unlike the ones who are proposing the whole country to get cleaned. This is a mindset problem and requires long and ‘honest’ efforts. These are basically about thoughts first and no ‘photoshop’ is permitted there. After all, commoners usually have not the mercurial temperament like a politician that is adept in stabilizing quickly – based on circumstances.

So far, I have already seen many elements of the book in my day to day life, beautifully (and stingingly) given words.

And to end the book, Rakesh sir chooses the subjects, that are again relevant and are happening in real time. He writes on the ‘selfie fad’ in one of the world’s most rapidly developing mobile and mobile-internet market and his satire deliberates on its socio-political implications. Dussehra inspires him to write on a universal malaise inside, that how we see ourselves sacrosanct, that how we refuse to see the bad inside us accordingly. For us (or most of us), evil is not in us. We find a way to say that ‘we are all good.

kos Kos Shabdkosh_1

It’s not about the subject matter that differentiates an author. It’s about the treatment that places him in a separate league. And Rakesh sir’s book is an example of it. He has shaped this book from his experiences and observations of day to day life. Routine can become a source of joy as well he shows us once again, provided we try to go the extra mile beyond the routine.

Yes, it’s been some years that I spoke with him, yet he is one of the few persons I admire. And like I always do, like many things, I am thinking over Rakesh sir’s work, carrying a self-assessment of it to debate it, even if Michael Moore says that ‘satire cannot be debated’.

What I think a piece of satire or a whole work on it is debatable. A good work is basically about introspection and observation and the subsequent correlation and there are ample takeaways from this book.

It is like visiting him personally while reading the book because I know him as a human-being. I know about the goodness of Hindi as it is my mother-tongue. And of all genres of Hindi, I like satire the most. And I place this book in my league.

What I think he has given us a refreshing book on a subject so basic to us. It is in human nature – criticizing others. Sometime, it becomes a necessity. Sometime, it is all about entertaining our strained souls. Sometime, it is driven by a reason. Sometime, it is self-inflicted. Sometime, it is for fun simply.

Like most of the things in life, it is not without reasons. We imprecate/execrate/darn something or someone all the time.

But we seldom think of a book, something that Rakesh sir thought. And moreover, he went beyond thinking. He wrote a book about it.

For me, reading ‘Kos Kos Shabdkosh’ is like building a vocabulary of related Hindi terms and I enjoyed the exercise.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

THE NORTH KOREAN PURGE – ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14: HE WAS INDOCTRINATED TO KNOW NO EMOTIONS

Today, the United Nations released a report on Human Rights violation in North Korea (the killing machines of humanity I say) recommending strong action against one of the living laboratories of the Holocaust. The report says ‘the world must act’, yet it has been a long, dead spell of geopolitical games allowing people to be butchered, by the idiots like Kim Jong-un or his predecessors.

I am sharing here, today, my book review of ‘Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West’ that I had written last may after reading the book, a book (a rare, authenticated, firsthand account – there have been very few cases of prison-camp survivors of North Korea) that reflects on what the report says, on what is happening in North Korea.

It’s straight. No colours. Single-point concentration and just one message!

And it hits sharply.

Family, father, mother, brother, sister, friends – all these words were just faceless, nameless heaps of flesh, devoid of any philosophical meaning of the term ‘soul’, competing for that ‘always’ meager amount of the foodstuff given twice a day (and that, too, irregularly). The survival of every nameless was mortgaged to the pervert decadence of the savage indoctrination.

He knew no emotions. Getting somehow the daily dose of that meal, which we, in the ‘civilized’ world can never think of even touching, was the only motive to live the next day. The best survival instinct was betrayal – betray everyone, no trust – get your share of the rotten meal anyhow – midst abuses, whippings, isolations, rapes, sodomy, and killings.

All for no reason – or something that your ancestors or relatives had done!

He was not alone. There were tens of thousands of them – the book puts it 150,000 to 200,000 prisoners – in the labour camps of North Korea.

Blaine Harden’s ‘Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West’ is a strongly worded, emotive book, running high on the zero-emotion quotient of the central character, written in a provocative language, detailing out the life history and escape from the labour camp 14 of Shin Dong Hyuk who was born and brought up there.

escape-from-camp-14-fc2Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

The biographical memoir makes you squirm; breaks you into thoughts; kills you by the absence of the thoughtlessness; pins you on the inaction of ‘thinking civilizations’ across the world.

Unlike the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, North Korean camps have survived for over five decades now. Content of the book is indicative of thousands of murders in these camps every year and yet the prisoner count remains the same. It directly tells us the reign of state terror in North Korea has fed on killing millions of its famished population.

But like the Nazi camps, the ‘Selection’ process of the Nazi mentality is very well alive in the North Korean labour camps. In these camps, only two categories exist – prisoners and guards. Most of the prisoners don’t know why they are here. Guards treat them as animals – killing them, for reasons like stealing some grains of corn to getting pregnant after being raped by the guards.

Rooms for inmates are worse than prison cellars. Schools extend just one focused training – indoctrination of limited feelings, extreme fear and utmost devotion to the jokers Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (and now the next crook on the block – Kim Jong Un); schools where teachers kill small girls and boys by beating with blackboard pointer to release their anger.

The only skill imparted is learning to work in the labour intensive prison factories. The etiquettes manual tell never to look into the eyes of the guards and teachers and never question them.

‘Snitching’ is a word that dominates this narration; defines the underlying theme of this book. Every camp inmate is indoctrinated to snitch on others, even the family members that led Shin pass the information of escape plan of his mother and brother to the guards resulting in their public execution. He hated them. He hated his father.

And Shin was not alone. Almost of the camp inmates who had never seen the outside world were the same creatures as Shin was – animals with pervert survival instincts.

The way they had been raised, nothing could change their destiny until they found a way out of the hell – an impossible prospect.

And that is why ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is an extraordinary tale of escape of an animal Shin from the invisible North Korean concentration camps on the journey to become the human Shin.

He feels guilty for his act now that led to the execution of his mother and brother. He regrets that he didn’t say any word to his father on the eve of his escape in 2005. He now knows the feeling behind emotive words like ‘family’. One way to begin life afresh is probably changing your name, that is what Shin In Geun, the North Korean refugee thinks. So he is now Shin Dong Hyuk.

Yet he is still a broken persona living layered lives. It will take a long time for him to lead a totally normal life, if he can, in leaving behind the 23 years of his life in the land of the ‘Great and Dear’ leaders.

The multiple layers of secrecy and an insensitive international community have allowed the North Korean government to continue with the camps. These camps exist nowhere in official records of any country. There has been significant amount of work done by activists and journalists like David Hawk and Blaine Harden but why the international community is not acting is frustrating when tens of thousands are being killed every year.

The book is not about Shin; it is about life in the North Korean gulags; it is about the absolute cruel run of the North Korean regime; and it is about demeaning everything that is human.

Horror of the North Korean regime flows effectively, from one page to the other, from one chapter to the next – keeping you hooked to book, thinking, is there a limit to all this!

Try it to feel it.

May 16, 2012

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

WHAT DAN BROWN’S INFERNO IS

Related post: WHAT DAN BROWN’S INFERNO IS NOT

https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/what-dan-browns-inferno-is-not/

Good use of the text of Dante’s Inferno: I had not read it and there will be many other readers of Dan Brown’s Inferno who are yet to read or have no plans to read Dante’s seminal Inferno (of The Divine Comedy). It was not on my reading list in the foreseeable future. And though it didn’t push creating an urge, the detailed mention of the work did push me to take Google’s help. After reading the novel, I have done my share of research and intend to read more of The Divine Comedy.

It is still a good read: Reading a book is not just a time-pass. If seen logically and on a mature note, it is one of those better investments of your time that enriches your experience, a time given that widens your span of thinking. (Okay, I am not talking here of the cheap literature.)  On this scale, Dan Brown’s Inferno is a good read. Though you don’t jump over the prospects of the page-turners as you turn-over the pages, still, you can maintain a consistent pace of reading.

It is about a good beginning: The gentleman with a knack for getting into troubling environs of mystery and mysterious intellect gets hospitalized with serious head-injury and an assassin in pursuit and to compound the misery, the gentleman suffers amnesia that leaves him without any memory of his current situation – an apt beginning of a thriller pushing the reader to think of something complex and disturbing coming ahead and so pushing him to know more – that is a good enough beginning to sustain for the whole reading length in spite of the book not being an edgy thrilling saga.

It is not dogmatic/describing about religion: Though weaved around the Symbology of a heavily religious work, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Dan Brown smoothly manages to keep away the religious underpinnings in his Inferno much in the same way he has done in his earlier works. His use of the religious or cultural or historical Symbology remains like an objective reading of an existing text.

Some good character development: Though Robert Langdon is not as sharp as he was in ‘Angels & Demons’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’, the characters of Sienna Brooks and Bertrand Zobrist stand out and carry the plot on their shoulders smoothly. The predicament and emotional quotient of Sienna Brooks touches the heart while Bertrand Zobrist’s character background and his radical views on an issue (overpopulation) so regularly discussed pushes one to think. The reader wants to know what happens to them. The reader thinks on what happened to them.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

WHAT DAN BROWN’S INFERNO IS NOT

It is not about Robert Langdon: I found characters SiennaBrooks and Bertrand Zobrist the principal protagonists holding the story in a better way than the main series protagonist of the story, the Harvard symbologist Robert Landon. They push the story and Langdon carries the supportive role.

It is not a one-sit read: A good read but not as riveting a work to make you pick the book and deliberately push other engagements to finish it first.

It is a thriller but not a racy thriller: The hard-bound edition that I went through, the one that has over 400 pages, had very few page-turners, certainly not enough to push the reader to continue with the book suspending every other activity of the time. The plot has very few hair-raising twists and one can easily see the time lapsing.

It is not about unexpected twists and turns: As the story begins, if you are a discernible reader and have read Dan Brown earlier, you start sensing the turn of events that the author tries to make the ‘twist points’ in his story. And all through the work, a well defined sense of ‘predictability’ flows regularly. It was a similar problem area with Dan Brown’s previous book ‘The Lost Symbol’.

Characterization of one the main protagonists, Sienna Brooks, gives it all in the very beginning and as the story progresses, soon it becomes clear what we are going to have about her in the final outcome.

The main plot element of bioterrorism becomes very clear in the beginning. That may be what Dan Brown might have intended but furthering it with symbological elements of architecture and with themes in Dante’s Inferno doesn’t go too well with the plot development. Yes, its finality of emerging as an unorthodox solution to contain the ‘pandemic of the overpopulation’ does ring some bells but doesn’t hold the ground well as it becomes too late by the time the reader comes to know about it to give it a thought as a serious climactic plot element.

The climax doesn’t hold for the whole body of the work: The way things boil down so soon to a ‘positive apocalyptic periphery’ leaves a lot to be desired. The dilution of the provost’s equity, from an all powerful manipulator to some small-time crook in the last of the story, is totally anti-academic. The place of the creation of the ‘final solution’ by Bertrand Zobrist and the dramatization of the plot elements about it and the event don’t gel with the character development of Zobrist. The only saving grace here is the segment specific character shades of Sienna Brooks.

‘The Lost Symbol’ too, was similarly squeezing on the detailing in the story climax.

It doesn’t push to know more: Like other Robert Langdon starrers, this too, has a plot of few hours focusing largely on extensive detailing of a geographic locality, in this case, two main Italian cities, Florence and Venice. But what I found this time, the architectural and semiotic detailing sounded more like a ‘filling’ in the whole body of the work than being the inherent part of the plot elements.

This creates a sort of detachment and pushes one to scan the segments (and not serious reading) that contain such detailing. Dan Brown’s earlier works prompted people to do some earnest googling about plot elements and themes like symbolism, Symbology, Leonardo da Vinci, The Louvre, The Vatican, Freemasonry and so on but I could not find the similar urge with this work.

Have you read the book? What do you say about it?

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

ELIE WIESEL’S NIGHT: DARK SIDE OF THE MAN THAT CAN KILL MILLIONS

Writing about ‘Escape from Camp 14’ reminded me about Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’, the memoir, that details out THE DEGENERATION OF LIFE in the Nazi concentration camps. A classic that I visit to, again and again.

While ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is about the journey of a man, born and forced to live an animal life, finding the human in him; ‘Night’ is about how a man, born to lead a human life, is forced to a life worse than of animals.

NightWiesel

Book cover of ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel, sourced from the Internet 

At over 120 odd pages (the Penguin India edition that I have), the ‘slim’ ‘Night’ numbs you by the simple words of confusion about life, faith, death and relations as told by a young Elie Wiesel reflecting the tormenting days of his life in different concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

‘Night’ begins normally with observations of a teenager about a quiet Jewish countryside in a remote town Sighet, under Hungary’s occupation then. It tells how a typical Jewish family lives there, how a boy dutifully tries to be religiously observant, how the community there feels insular to the outside world’s activities and concerns, currently under a world war, believing that it cannot reach them.

‘Night’ exposes the inherent human weakness – clinging to the very last of the failing hope that the god would come and exercise some miracle – we see it in Elie’s father when he believes that something could still be worked out when almost of the Jewish community is already sent to Auschwitz; we see it later on as the memoir progresses when Jews in the concentration camps think every now and then about the world war coming to an end praying the god; we see it in the escapist thoughts when the Jews of Sighet initially take German soldiers as good Samaritans even if their every freedom is curtailed the very day German soldiers arrive in the town; we see it on every such occasion when the characters of this memoir think that they are not going to be gassed and sent to then crematorium whenever they get a comparatively lesser fiendish a guard.

‘Night’ is representative of the dark side of man that can poison and kill millions. Millions of Jews were gassed, burned and exterminated in furnaces and ‘Night’ tells that sordid tale through the eyes of the teenager Elie who struggles with his conscience first, about his trust in god that he finds incoherent with the acts beginning the day they board the cattle train to Auschwitz, and grows on to degenerate into the cattle mentality of surviving anyhow even if it means sacrificing your father and shapes into the ultimate distrust in anything like god – what else can be expected when someone becomes mute spectator to the Nazi killing machine of Hitler’s Germany – the ‘Selection’ of humans as animals gassing and burning them in thousands daily. Elie survived the months in the concentration camps while living near to those crematoriums.

‘Night’ is just not a Holocaust literature; it is also a sensitive book on a father-son relation. ‘Night’ tells us the internal struggle of human conscience when Elie writes about that ‘night’ that changes all. The night they board the train makes their human comrades inhuman at they very go – the way his community people beat the old woman crying consistently after her family is taken away. No sympathy – just the savagery of the jungle to survive – that ‘night’ began it. Elie watches himself change. Though he remains very much a father’s son, father being his only symbolic emotive quotient and support throughout the captive life, he thinks at occasions of his father as burden, only to blame himself the next moment. There come moments when he watches his old, frail father being brutally beaten by the guards but tries to avoid the eye contact.

And the teenager Elie was just one life out of the millions in the concentration camps, who thought like this; who inherited this internal war for the years to come; who got unending ‘night’ hours imprinted in their conscious to haunt them.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/