How does one even begin to describe the life into which Shin Dong-Hyuk was born? The son of parents chosen by his captors, Shin ages (I hesitate to use the term,”grows”) in the bleak environment of Camp 14, one of six North Korean political prison camps in existence today. Physical and psychological torture were simply a way of life. Cut-throat competition for food and clothing were encouraged by prison guards, and expression of any form of love was simply non-existent. Before Shin’s miraculous escape in January 2005, no one born into one of these camps had ever left alive.
Blaine Harden, a veteran reporter and one-time bureau chief for The Washington Post weaves a stark, informative narrative about not only the horrors of camp life and the escape itself, but of young Shin Dong-Hyuk’s difficult adjustment to a life of freedom. Having lived in a constant state of hunger and physical want, Shin continues to live with the guilt of choices and behaviors that were necessary survival techniques within the camp. He shares, “I am evolving from being an animal, but is its going very, very slowly. Sometimes I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything.”
Through the unimaginable scenes describing Shin’s life, Blaine Harden exposes the North Korea that exists beyond the headlines– and it’s not a pretty sight.