‘Because I am surrounded by good people, I try to do what good people do. But it is very difficult. It does not flow from me naturally. . . . I am evolving from being an animal. But it is going very, very slowly.” Shin Dong-hyuk was speaking to Blaine Harden, a reporter for Frontline and a contributor to The Economist who has served as the Washington Post’s bureau chief in East Asia. Harden has recently authored the gripping memoir Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.
As Harden recounts, Shin was born in 1982 in Camp 14 in North Korea, a “no exit” political camp largely populated by entire families. It is one of six camps that may hold a total of 200,000 prisoners, the biggest of which occupies an area larger than Los Angeles. These camps are clearly visible in satellite reconnaissance photos, but North Korea denies that they exist.