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This story offers a rare look into a corner of the world beyond polite societies. Noted journalist Blaine Harden tells the saga of Shin Dong-hyuk, a boy who grew up in a North Korean labor camp for political dissidents. He was raised in deprivation, depravity and hopelessness, and endured punishments so relentless you will wonder, as you read, why he didn’t kill himself. In fact, because he was endlessly starved, his will to live flickered like the single light bulb in his home’s shared kitchen. This dark memoir, like any personal history of inhumanity, challenges you not to forget, not to dismiss and not to look away. You may well wonder if you could have survived in such a place. getAbstract finds that this gripping book puts political life in the West in perspective. It offers a stark sense of what security and privacy mean. Even more, it is a scream in the dead of night, a heart’s-eye view of massive inhumanity and a call to action against a vicious rogue kingdom.



More people are escaping from North Korea into China, but Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known escapee from a North Korean prison camp who was born and raised within its electrified fences. Faced with famine since 1990, North Korea is a brutal dictatorship under hereditary rule. It has no oil, never developed its hydroelectric capabilities, and uses ash and excrement as fertilizer. North Korea denies the existence of its prison camps housing some 200,000 people, but the desolate fenced zones are visible on Google Earth.

Shin was born in 1983 or 1984 in Camp 14, one of North Korea’s biggest, most brutal prisons for dissidents and their families. His home had no furniture, mattress, running water or privacy, nor did it have much heat, electricity or food. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling of a kitchen that several families shared gave the only indoor light, flickering just an hour before dawn and a few hours after sunset. Shin’s mother, Jang Hye Gyung, was a short brick of a woman. Years later, Shin said he had loved her in his way, perhaps more in retrospect, but while living in the camp he was incapable of even a primitive emotional life. Camp 14 ...

About the Author

Blaine Harden is an author and long-time foreign correspondent. His books include Africa: Dispatches From a Fragile Continent and A River Lost. His work also appears in Foreign Policy magazine and he contributes to PBS Frontline.

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