This is a gripping account of a man, the first known person, to escape from one of North Korea’s most notorious labor camps. I was amazed at his story, his determination and resolve, but I was also angry. I grew angry at the international community for ignoring these camps for far too long. They are the modern equivalent of Nazi concentration camps or Stalin’s gulags, except they have been around longer. As someone who considers himself to be a quasi-cosmopolitan thinker, it’s appalling to read accounts such as this one. While we can and should have important discussions about morality and cultural norms, there are some crimes that have generally been accepted as heinous. Genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass murder often overlap and intersect depending on what conflict is referred to. What has been happening in North Korea might not fit neatly into any of those categories, but it’s certainly just as horrific. People like Shin Dong-hyuk are born in these camps and will likely never leave. They’re brainwashed at an early age to trust no one and snitch on everything you hear, especially if it’s about their family. Food is scarce so it’s used as a treasure that’s dangled in front of them. In fact, Shin didn’t escape initially because of some political or moral reasons, but to eat a hearty meal.
I’m glad Shin wrote this because his book is creating much more attention that North Korea generally receives. This is a good thing and may lead to some reforms down the road. What those will like is still unknown as Kim Jong-un is too busy meeting with Dennis Rodman to worry about other foreign leaders or his own people. I highly recommend this book that serves as some of the best evidence yet of the brutality that occurs inside North Korea’s borders.