I told the guy that I needed some counselling after I was done with reading this book. It was difficult to digest; difficult to imagine that such things could happen to a human being. Every sentence that I read, every page that I flipped, I had to halt for a mental pause to convince myself that this wasn’t a fictional novel I was reading.
This is the second book that I’ve read about North Korean defectors, the first one being the biography of Kim Jong Ryul in ‘Im Dienst des Diktators‘. We often read in the papers about famine and starvation in other parts of the world, but these are places where hints of humanity – love from the starving mother, help from world aid organisations – were nevertheless still observable and within arm’s reach. This camp in North Korea is scrupulously oblivious to the existence of love and humility. To say that it is a world of the living dead would be an understatement and probably an utterly misleading description of the dire situation in the North Korean prison camps.
The first hand accounts of Shin from young till adulthood are heartbreaking. It acts as a harsh reminder of how lucky we all are in this part of the world, to be able to possess all the things that we’ve taken for granted since birth. For Shin, being born to a mother in a prison camp was all it took for him to be robbed of his whole life’s worth. He grew up believing that the absence of love is legit; he grew up without any conscious thoughts about the much rehashed concepts of freedom and liberty in the modernized states. His story is an unequivocal testament to the importance of one to be born in the right place, although it also places an equal amount of emphasis on the need to discover hope for oneself in extreme moments of despondency and desperation.
‘While Hitler attacked his enemies, Kim (Jong Il) worked his own people to death in places like Camp 14… I escaped physically, I haven’t escaped psychologically.’
These are formidable words which effectively demonstrate the backlash of authoritarian control in North Korean prison camps. I took for granted that this story would tell of a happy ending: an escapee of the North is slowly becoming imbibed into the rhythms of individualism and the blues of city beats. I can’t be more wrong. Instead of feeling emancipated from the strongholds of the country’s dictator and the camps’ guards after leaving the penitentiary, Shin continues to be trapped in an inextinguishable mound of guilt – that of leaving his own people behind. My naivete was rudely shaken by the unforgiving truth: that a lifetime of negatively habituated indoctrination cannot be erased within a matter of years.
The forlorn state of this pariah nation leads me to hope that I could attest to even the most superfluous changes in the country. I wish for Shin to remain strong and convicted to his callings in life; I urge everyone to remain contented with life.
For more information on the author of this book, please visit Blaine Harden‘s website.
The video interview with Shin via Link (Libery in North Korea) is available at the YouTube website.