I’d like to tell you about a book I just finished reading, called Escape from Camp 14. It is written by Blaine Harden, who is an author and journalist for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. I read about the book in a Wall Street Journal report and had to give it a read.
The book recounts the story of Shin In Geun (now Shin Dong-hyuk ), who is the only person to have been born in a North Korean prison camp and escaped. Shin is the child of a man and woman who were awarded a gift of having a night with each other, and he grew up chronically malnourished and unloved in a place of brutality, torture, paranoia and fear. When he was 13, he reported to camp authorities that his mother and brother were planning to escape. He was tortured just for knowing about it and then had to watch their executions. He felt no remorse. Surprisingly, Shin’s desire to escape from the camp was not based on a desire for freedom, but simply because he wanted food, in particular meat! How he managed to get out required an inordinate amount of luck and incredible perseverance, and is fascinating in the telling, but the real story is his struggle to adjust to the modern world, first in South Korea and later in California. This is a powerful memoir, written from interviews with Shin over the course of several years. I recommend it not because of its sensationalism, but because it reveals the truth about North Korea’s prison camps and also explains why South Korea, and indeed the world, has shown little interest in reunification, the human rights violations of North Korean, and the abolition of the camps. It is also a testament to the power of the human spirit in the face of unfathomable cruelty and deprivation.