book reviews on books I've read
Journalist Blaine Hardin sheds light on the recent events in North Korea with his account of Shin In Geun’s seemingly impossible escape from a North Korean prison camp, where he was supposed to be a lifetime member. North Korea’s history of using nuclear force as a bargaining chip with the U.S. and South Korea makes sense in light of Shin’s tale of human rights abuses and famine. Shin was born in the camp, the product of an arranged “marriage” between two prisoners, and escaped January 2, 2005. He remains the only person born in a camp to do so. During his imprisonment, Shin experienced famine, physical and emotional abuse, torture in an underground prison, and the execution of both his mother and older brother after their attempted escape. Although he does escape via China to South Korea and eventually the United States, Shin has trouble assimilating into Western society because he survived in the camp as a “snitch.” Having revealed his mother’s escape plot to the prison guards, overwhelming guilt haunts his dreams after his escape. He also feels guilty for leaving his father behind, as he was certain to face torture and execution after Shin’s escape. Never having known love, Shin finds himself nearly incapable of a successful human relationship outside prison walls. He also drifts from job to job since the concepts of money and of being an employee are foreign to him.
Harden’s purpose in writing this saga is to bring to light both the existence of the camps, which the North Koreans deny, as well as to demonstrate the severity of human rights abuses in that country. This book reads like a thriller. While the title gives away that Shin eventually escapes, his life story is a page-turner. More than anything, this book made me appreciate the freedoms we have in the West, and especially in the United States.