Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person on earth born in one of North Korea’s hellhole concentration camps who has escaped and told his story. During his twenty-three years in Camp 14, a ghastly place even by North Korean standards, Shin knew absolutely nothing of the world beyond the electrified wire. From a new prisoner who had lived most of his life outside the camps, Shin learned that the world is round, that there is a city called Pyongyang and countries called South Korea and China, and that in those and many other countries people have computers, mobile phones and television, and use something called money. But what really fascinated Shin was that outside Camp 14 there were people who had enough to eat. ‘What he kept begging [for] were stories about food and eating, particularly when the main course was grilled meat,’ which Shin had eaten only when he had trapped a rat.
Blaine Harden of the Washington Post is an experienced reporter of other hellholes, such as the Congo, Serbia, and Ethiopia. These, he makes clear, are success stories compared to North Korea. His first account of Shin’s life and escape, a front-page interview in the Washington Post, just skimmed the surface;