Escape from Camp 14

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Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk Character Analysis

Shin Dong-hyuk, born Shin In Geun, is the protagonist of Escape from Camp 14. He was born in Camp 14, one of the many prison camp located in North Korea, to Jang Hye Gyung and Shin Gyung Sub—meaning that, unlike many of the other prisoners in Camp 14, he grew up with no memories of a life outside the camp. Growing up in Camp 14, Shin spent little time with his parents; his main authority figures were the camp guards, who taught him to inform on his peers in return for more food. Shin grew up with almost no concept of love or trust—he survived, indeed, because he refused to love or trust for anyone else. At the age of 13, Shin informed the guards of his mother and brother’s attempt to escape from Camp 14; as a result, they were both executed. While at the time Shin was proud of himself for informing on his family, he later came to feel enormous guilt for his actions. Shin claims that he escaped from Camp 14 in his twenties. However, in 2015, Shin recanted many aspects of his life’s story: he now claims that he grew up in Camp 18, not Camp 14, signed a document stating that his mother and brother had committed a murder, lived with his father as a teenager, and—perhaps most importantly—escaped from prison camp twice before succeeding in making his way to South Korea. As Blaine Harden portrays him, Shin is a complex character, all the more so because he’s been reluctant to talk about his life. He’s consumed with guilt and self-loathing, to the point where he sometimes omits the full truth, or lies outright. In all, Shin is a deeply sympathetic character, but also a maddeningly unreliable source of information about North Korean prison camps.

Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk Quotes in Escape from Camp 14

The Escape from Camp 14 quotes below are all either spoken by Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk or refer to Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tyranny and the North Korean State Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Escape from Camp 14 published in 2013.
Preface Quotes

Shin had been schooled to inform on his family and on his classmates. He won food as a reward and joined guards in beating up children he betrayed. His classmates, in turn, tattled on him and beat him up.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: xxxi
Explanation and Analysis:

In the preface to the book, Harden discusses the life of Shin In Geun, a prisoner in Camp 14, a prison camp in North Korea. Shin was born in Camp 14, and as a result, he grew up conditioned to obey the prison guards at all costs. Thus, when the guards ordered him to inform on his peers, betray his family, and even participate in the beating of fellow children, Shin joined in without a second thought. While Shin’s actions may seem barbaric or unforgiveable to many readers, one should remember that Shin didn’t have anything like a normal childhood: his earliest memories are of executions and beatings, and his parents never got the opportunity (or tried) to teach him how to be loyal or brave. Thus, readers should refrain from judging Shin: perhaps it’s even fair to say that for many years he didn’t freely choose his actions at all.

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Introduction Quotes

Shin's story seemed to get under the skin of ordinary readers. They wrote letters and sent e-mails, offering money, housing, and prayers.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

In the introduction, Blaine Harden talks about meeting with Shin for the first time and later interviewing him for a Washington Post article. The article caused a minor uproar among Post readers—hundreds of people contacted Harden to ask for more information about North Korean labor camps, which they regarded as a barbaric institution that needed to be destroyed with all deliberate speed.

The popularity of Harden’s article illustrates two important points, one positive and one negative. First, it shows that people are especially likely to empathize with the victims of human rights atrocities when the atrocities are structured around a comprehensible human narrative—in this case, the story of Shin’s life. Or, in a slightly different sense, people are most likely to take action when they’re made aware of the human consequences of genocide, war, or torture. At the same time, however, Harden’s article emphasizes the phenomenon often known as the “issue-attention cycle.” Although Harden’s article aroused a lot of outrage, it failed to galvanize American politicians into action—and so North Korea’s prison camps survive today. Too often, the public lets its outrage stand in for concrete action—they let articles like Harden’s anger them, but then, given enough time, they forget about the issues.

In writing this book, I have sometimes struggled to trust him. He misled me in our first interview about his role in the death of his mother, and he continued to do so in more than a dozen interviews. When he changed his story, I became worried about what else he might have made up.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Blaine Harden has written Escape From Camp 14 with the assumption that Shin is, at least most of the time, a reliable source of information about the North Korean prison camps. This assumption needs some reinforcement: as Harden admits here, there were many times during his interviews when Shin lied to him. And indeed, since the release of Escape From Camp 14, Shin has changed his story once more. He now claims he grew up in Camp 18, not Camp 14, lived with his father as a teenager, signed a document claiming that his mother and brother committed a murder, and escaped from prison camp twice before he succeeded in making his way to South Korea.

Shin is, without a doubt, an unreliable source of information about Camp 14. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that readers should ignore his testimony altogether—rather, it suggests that readers should understand the sources and limitations of Shin’s biases, and learn to read between the lines with his testimony. Doing so is important, because Shin is Harden’s only source of information about the prison camps—he can’t ask anyone else about them, or fact-check Shin’s claims. Thus, Harden suggests that readers operate on the assumption that Shin sometimes distorts the truth to minimize his own guilt and complicity in evil, but nevertheless tells the general truth about the structure of the North Korean political prison system.

Chapter 1 Quotes

That evening, Shin went with his mother to an "ideological struggle" meeting, a compulsory gathering for self-criticism. Shin’s mother again fell to her knees at the meeting, as forty of her fellow farm workers followed the bowijidowoz's lead and berated her for failing to fill her work quota.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Jang Hye Gyung / Shin’s Mother
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Shin’s mother, Jang Hye Gyung, has been raped by one of her guards at Camp 14 (the bowijidowoz mentioned in the passage). Afterwards, Jang is forced to continue working as usual, and, when she fails to meet her daily quota, her coworkers yell at her and condemn her for laziness. The ritualistic process by which the prisoners of Camp 14 condemn one another for their failings is called “ideological struggle.” The fact that ideological struggle is such an important part of life for the prisoners speaks volumes about power and control in the camps. The prison guards seem to have figured out that the best way to perpetuate their power is to divide their prisoners. If the prisoners learned to work together, they could stage uprisings and defeat the guards—however, by forcing the prisoners to hate and attack one another, the guards effectively guarantee that no long-term alliances will form, the prisoners will refuse to be loyal to one another, and the guards will continue to hold all the power.

Chapter 2 Quotes

Without a second thought, Shin joined his classmates in thrashing Ryu.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Ryu Hak Chul
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Shin, still a small child, regularly joined his classmates and the prison guards in beating other children (in this passage, a student named Ryu). He believed that beatings and whippings were a regular part of life—something that he had to endure from time to time, but also dole out. To state the obvious, it’s unspeakably tragic that a small child grew up believing that violence and sadism were basic parts of life, rather than hideous perversions of it.

The passage emphasizes how the prison’s guards maintained power: turning the prisoners against one another in order to keep them loyal to the authorities. Furthermore, the passage shows why Shin continues to struggle with guilt and self-loathing as an adult—and, perhaps, why he continued to lie about his past long after escaping into South Korea. Although Shin participated in beatings to survive as a political prisoner, he’s unable to forgive himself for causing so much pain to others.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Shin said he did not expect forgiveness for what he was about to disclose. He said he had not forgiven himself. He also seemed to be trying to do something more than expiate guilt. He wanted to explain—in a way that he acknowledged would damage his credibility as a witness—how the camp had warped his character.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

At first, Shin told Blaine Harden that he was arrested by the prison guards of Camp 14 and taken to a secret jail. Then, he added a crucial detail: the day before he was arrested, he informed on his own mother and brother, telling the guards that they planned to escape. Shin’s act led directly to the execution of his mother and brother—a crime that haunts Shin to this day. Then, after Harden’s book was published, Shin admitted that he not only ratted out his family, but also falsely implicated them in murder to ensure their execution.

Shin, it must be conceded, isn’t always a reliable source of information about the political prison system. He often distorts the facts to alleviate his guilt, make himself seem more sympathetic, or simply to avoid reliving specific traumas. However, Harden fully believes that Shin is telling the truth about what goes on in North Korean political prisons in general. Furthermore, he emphasizes that Shin wants to tell the full truth, and nothing but the truth, about his past—by doing so, he hopes to come to terms with his actions, and tell the world about the great evil that he lived through. Readers need to decide if they buy Harden’s argument—if they can weigh Shin’s testimony, throwing out some of it while accepting the rest.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Accepting the guard’s word, Shin explained what his brother and mother were planning and where they were. The guard telephoned his superiors. He told Shin and Hong to go back to the dormitory and get some sleep. He would take care of everything.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Jang Hye Gyung / Shin’s Mother, He Geun / Shin’s Brother, Hong Sung Jo
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

On the night before Shin was arrested, he informed a night guard of his mother and brother’s plan to escape from camp the next day. Shin grew up without feeling any real affection for his family—his only priority was to survive and feed himself, and therefore, he thought of his family mostly as competitors for food. So when Shin found out that his mother was planning to leave Camp 14, he didn’t hesitate to inform on her.

The brutal irony of the passage, however, is that soon after Shin betrayed his family to the night guard, the night guard betrayed Shin, claiming all the credit for discovering Shin’s mother’s plan, and therefore leading Shin to be arrested. Although Shin is eventually freed from jail, he lives with his guilt for the rest of his life.

Chapter 7 Quotes

It was Shin's first exposure to sustained kindness, and he was grateful beyond words. But he also found it puzzling. He had not trusted his mother to keep him from starving.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Jang Hye Gyung / Shin’s Mother, Kim Jin Myung / “Uncle”
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

In prison, Shin claims to have shared a cell with an elderly man named Kim Jin Myung, or “Uncle.” Uncle treated Shin with great kindness and sensitivity: he treated Shin’s wounds, entertained him with stories, and gave him advice for the future. In short, Uncle was the only kind person in Shin’s life thus far—the first person who didn’t treat him as a mere competitor for food, and the first person for whom, in return, Shin felt genuine affection.

It’s telling, however, that Shin met Uncle in a jail cell. Uncle treated Shin kindly, Harden implies, because he was in a position where he had nothing to lose. Had Uncle encountered Shin above ground in the prison camp itself, he might not have been so generous to Shin—he might even have betrayed Shin to benefit himself. As depressing as it is to consider, the prisoners were cruel to one another because they had to fight for survival, and therefore had no chance to be kind.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Shin's brother looked gaunt and frail as guards tied him to the wooden post. Three guards fired their rifles three times. Bullets snapped the rope that held his forehead to the pole. It was a bloody, brain-splattered mess of a killing, a spectacle that sickened and frightened Shin. But he thought his brother, too, had deserved it.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Jang Hye Gyung / Shin’s Mother, He Geun / Shin’s Brother
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

After he informed on his mother and brother, Shin was tortured and detained for many months, and then brought back to his prison camp. There, he and his father watched Jang and He Geun being executed in front of thousands of other people (since 2015, Shin has given conflicting information about how, exactly, his family members died—initially he mentioned hanging, but later said both were shot).

The scene is, in some ways, the core of Shin’s narrative: the horrific, traumatizing experience that he’s been trying and failing to forget for the last fifteen years. Even at the time, Shin knew that he was responsible for his brother and mother’s deaths—he informed on them, and even signed a document implicating them in a murder. At the time, as stated here, he had been brainwashed enough to think that they “deserved it”—but later on, after escaping from his prison camp, Shin became haunted with guilt over his actions. As a consequence of his guilt, Shin lied about his past to hundreds of journalists, counselors, and human rights activists, and ended up having to revise his testimony, arguably weakening the anti-prison camp activist movement. Even if one accepts that Shin’s deceptions have weakened the movement, however, one can also sympathize with Shin’s behavior. Like so many victims of trauma, Shin distorted the truth to preserve his self-worth and his sanity.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Shin's misery never skidded into complete hopelessness. He had no hope to lose, no past to mourn, no pride to defend.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Following the execution of his mother and brother, Shin claims, he was sent back to Camp 14 and put to work. Life was very difficult—he was bullied and beaten for falling behind his work quota, and his teacher hated him because he had gone to the night guard instead of the teacher when he informed on his family members. However, Shin didn’t contemplate suicide. His life was miserable by almost any standard, but in a way, Shin was used to living in misery. He’d been born in a political prison camp, so he was used to a hard, hopeless life. Furthermore Shin was not yet haunted with guilt for betraying his family. Thus, Shin never seriously considered ending his life.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Astonishing himself and his seamstresses, Shin lost his composure. He grabbed a large wrench and swung it as hard as he could, trying to crack open Gong's skull.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Gong Jin Soo
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

According to Shin, he was unexpectedly transferred to a garment factory shortly after being sent to work on a pig farm. Later, Shin admitted that he had tried to escape from his prison camp twice before successfully making his way into South Korea—this might suggest that Shin was transferred to the garment factory as a punishment for escaping. The fact that Shin distorted the truth regarding his transfer to the garment factory calls into question the contents of this passage, in which Shin stands up for a fellow worker by attacking his superior, Gong Jin Soo. Shin gives no explanation for why he felt the compulsion to defend one of his peers—it’s particularly odd that he would do so since, by Shin’s own admission, he regularly participated in the beating of other prisoners. While it’s impossible to know for sure what is and isn’t true in Escape From Camp 14 (even the title, Shin later revealed, is inaccurate), it’s certainly possible that Shin fabricated or embellished the scene to make his behavior seem more moral than it really was. Such embellishments would be consistent with some others in the text.

At the mention of his father’s name, Shin became angry. Although he had tried to repress it, the resentment he felt toward his mother and brother had grown since their deaths. It had poisoned his feelings for his father. Shin wanted nothing to do with him.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Shin Gyung Sub / Shin’s Father
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

During his time in the garment factory, Shin’s supervisor offered him a gift of rice flour, which the supervisor said came from Shin’s father. According to the passage, Shin denied the gift, since he was still furious with his father because of his connection to Shin’s mother and brother. However, the passage is complicated by the information that Shin was living with his father throughout most of his time in Camp 18, contrary to what he claimed in Escape From Camp 14. Thus, it’s unclear how estranged Shin was from his father, and how much the estrangement had to do with the death of Shin’s mother and brother.

Shin claimed that his resentment for his mother increased after her death, and that this resentment “poisoned” his relationship with his father. However, the passage is frustrating vague about Shin and his father’s relationship—and, especially in light of Shin’s later admissions, one has the strong sense that there’s a lot more to this story than Shin and Harden are revealing.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Intoxicated by what he heard from the prisoner he was supposed to betray, Shin made perhaps the first free decision of his life. He chose not to snitch.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Park Yong Chul
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Harden discusses Shin’s decision not to inform on his fellow prisoner and garment factory worker, Park Yong Chul. Because of his proven usefulness as an informer, Shin was asked to spy on Park and report back on Park’s political beliefs. However, when he realized that Park was a decent man, with valuable knowledge about the outside world, Shin decided not to inform on him. Harden characterizes the decision as the first free decision Shin ever made. This would suggest that, in Harden’s opinion, Shin isn’t morally accountable for betraying his mother and brother—rather, Shin acted out of a kind of necessity, informing on his family because he thought it would earn him more food and, therefore, a better chance at surviving the prison camps (and, moreover, he thought it was right, since he had been taught that defying authority was the ultimate evil).

It’s not clear if Harden would revise his initial evaluation in light of Shin’s recent recanting of his testimony. Given that Shin and his peers lived in Camp 18, where they weren’t necessarily going to be worked to death, and given that Shin did indeed have some contact with the outside world, his decision to inform on his family may have been “freer” than Harden implies it was.

He began thinking about escape. Park made those thoughts possible. He changed the way Shin connected with other people. Their friendship broke a lifelong pattern—stretching back to Shin's malignant relationship with his mother—of wariness and betrayal.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Jang Hye Gyung / Shin’s Mother, Park Yong Chul
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Park and Shin had a strong friendship; they took care of each other, helped each other through their work, and inspired each other with hope of seeing the outside world one day. As the information is presented in the book, Park was the wise, worldly father-figure to Shin; however, it’s recently come to light that Shin had already been outside the camp twice before he met Park, suggesting that Shin wasn’t nearly as naïve as Harden presents him in this chapter. Nevertheless, it’s clear enough that Park was an importance influence on Shin. Park inspired Shin to escape from camp one more time, and, perhaps even more importantly, he encouraged Shin to place his trust in another human being, rather than looking out exclusively for his own interests.

Chapter 15 Quotes

What he remembers most clearly about crawling through the fence was that Park's body smelled like it was burning.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk, Park Yong Chul
Related Symbols: The Electric Fence
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

With Park Yong Chul, Shin planned to escape from his prison camp (in the book, Shin claims that he was in Camp 14; he’s later admitted that he was in Camp 18 at the time). Park and Shin ran for the electric fence together; however, because Park reached the fence first, he was the first to be electrocuted by the high voltage. When Park fell to the ground, convulsing, Shin didn’t hesitate to climb over Park’s body. Most of the current flowed through Park’s corpse and into the ground—meaning that, in a way, Park’s death allowed Shin to escape through the fence without being electrocuted himself.

The passage is disturbing to read because it shows that Shin was so dead-set on escaping from prison that he couldn't spare a second for his dying friend—moreover, it clearly implies that Park’s death allowed Shin to escape from prison unharmed. In light of Shin’s later testimony about his life, readers can better understand why Shin behaved so callously—not just because he wanted to escape from prison camp, but because he’d been informed that he’d be executed in the near future. Therefore, Shin didn’t turn back and regroup after the death of his friend—instead, he followed through with his plan and went forward.

Chapter 17 Quotes

When they finished their noodles, the young man said his family's apartment was just around the corner, but that he was embarrassed to greet his parents wearing threadbare clothes. He asked if Shin would mind lending him his coat for a few minutes.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

After Shin escaped from prison camp, he spent months wandering across North Korea. At the time, North Korea was going through major economic changes, one consequence of which was that it was relatively easy to travel between cities via train or truck. Shin was able to travel north toward the Chinese border, and during his train travels, he encountered another man who claimed that his family lived in an apartment where Shin could stay. The man asked Shin to let him borrow his warm winter coat for a few minutes, and Shin lent him the coat without hesitation. A short time later, after the man failed to meet up with Shin again, Shin realized that the man had conned him out of his coat.

In the book, Harden explains why Shin fell for such an obvious trick by pointing out that Shin was naïve about the way the real world worked—he’d never been outside of his prison camp. But in light of the later revelation that Shin had, in fact, left the camp before, it’s harder to explain why Shin trusted a stranger not to run off with his coat in the dead of winter. Perhaps Shin was still relatively inexperienced about how to deal people outside the camp, and so was overly trusting (whereas within the camp, he wasn’t trusting at all).

Chapter 18 Quotes

[Shin] was lucky: orders from on high had not yet changed the bribe-hungry behavior of the four bedraggled soldiers Shin met at guard stations along the Tumen River.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 18, Shin crosses from North Korea into China. According to Escape From Camp 14 itself, this was the first time that Shin had ever tried to leave the country—however, Shin later admitted that he’d escaped from prison camp twice before, and on his second try, he made it all the way into China before being apprehended. Therefore, it’s both harder and easier to believe that Shin was able to cross into China. On one hand, he had more experience bribing guards and avoiding soldiers; on the other, one might assume that the army would have been on the lookout for him, since he’d snuck across the border once before.

Regardless of the details of Shin’s story, the passage paints a pathetic picture of the state of the North Korean administration. The North Korean state depended on a strong military to enforce its policies; however, the soldiers who Shin met—and, it’s strongly implied, thousands of other soldiers across the country—were so poor and inexperienced themselves that they accepted bribes rather than follow orders. To this day, a significant chunk of the North Korean military population survives primarily off of bribes.

Chapter 19 Quotes

[Shin] was fetching water from a brook near the farm when he met two other North Korean defectors. They were hungry and cold and living in an abandoned shack in the woods not far from the pig farm. Shin asked the Chinese farmer to help them out, and he did so, but with a reluctance and a resentment that Shin was slow to notice.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

After he crossed into China, Shin lived with a farmer for several months. During this time, his living conditions were sparse, and yet they were nicer than anything he’d experienced before. After two other North Korean defectors approach him, however, Shin convinced the farmer to take care of them as well—a decision that ultimately led the farmer to grow exasperated with Shin and send him elsewhere. In other words, Shin claims that he made a selfless decision on behalf of his fellow North Korean defectors.

Some humans activists have criticized Shin’s claims elsewhere in this chapter, accusing him of fabricating the details of how he managed to avoid capture for so many months. However, it’s notable that this passage shows Shin behaving selflessly for the benefit of other people who’ve been through similar experiences. In Escape From Camp 14, the characters occasionally behave selflessly, especially when they feel that they have a common bond or a shared experience with the people they’re helping. It’s implied that Shin helped the defectors because he knew what they’d been through.

Chapter 20 Quotes

The journalist wrote everything down. This was not the kind of conversation Shin was used to. He had never met a journalist. It made him anxious. After a long silence, the man asked Shin if he wanted to go to South Korea.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

After moving away from the Chinese-Korean border, Shin made his way into central China and found work at various restaurants. It was during his time as a restaurant employee that Shin crossed paths with a South Korean journalist. The journalist, who’d reported on North Koreans before, asked Shin about his background, and Shin eventually told the journalist that he came from a North Korean political prison camp. With the journalist’s help, Shin was able to travel into South Korea, setting in motion Shin’s later career as a human rights activist and international figure.

The passage is notable because it emphasizes the role of luck and blind chance in Shin’s life story. Had Shin been working at a different restaurant, he would never have met the journalist, and might still be living in China to this day (or the North Koreans might have captured him and sent him back to prison camp, as they’d done before). It thus stands to reason that there could be other North Korean prison camp escapees living in China, but who haven’t been as lucky as Shin.

Chapter 21 Quotes

Shin did not have to worry about brokers, and his physical health was relatively good after a half year of rest and regular meals in the consulate in Shanghai. But his nightmares would not go away.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

After Shin began living in South Korea, he started to experience vivid nightmares about his time in the prison camp. He relived the experience of watching his mother and brother being executed, to the point where he could barely sleep or make it through the day without feeling severe anxiety.

From a psychological perspective, it’s not surprising that Shin began to feel more and more anxiety after he made his way to South Korea. For the first time in his life, he was getting enough food and rest, and he didn’t have to worry about being beaten or tortured. As a result, one might argue, Shin advanced in the “hierarchy of needs” to a more abstract problem: his guilt at having played a significant role in his mother and brother’s execution.

Chapter 22 Quotes

Shin exaggerated the South's lack of concern about the North, but he had a valid point. It's a blind spot that baffles local and international human rights groups. Overwhelming evidence of continuing atrocities inside the North's labor camps has done little to rouse the South Korean public.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

During his time in South Korea, Shin became increasingly involved in human rights causes. After spending so many years in barbaric conditions sanctioned by the North Korean government, Shin wanted to make sure that the camps were closed down—or, at the very least, that the rest of the world knew what went on inside the prison camps. However, Shin quickly found that the South Korean public was surprisingly uninterested in the North Korean prison camp issue. While there were many compassionate, empathetic activists and human rights campaigners in South Korea, the typical South Korean citizen, polls showed, didn’t think that the human rights situation in North Korea should be a high priority for South Koreans. Shin was understandably frustrated by his new countrymen’s indifference to the prison camps.

The passage is important because it outlines a challenge for many human rights movements: convincing the general public to care about the pain of others. The best way to do so, Harden strongly suggests, is for emotional, charismatic activists to inspire and even shock the public into action. Harden suggests that Shin could be such a figure for the anti-prison camp movement.

Chapter 23 Quotes

[Shin] told a story about his escape that was short, sketchy, sanitized—and largely incomprehensible to someone who was not steeped in the details of his life.
"My story can be very heartbreaking," he said, wrapping up the session after about fifteen minutes. "I don't want you to be depressed." He had bored and baffled his audience.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

After living in South Korea for a few years, Shin became a member of Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, a human rights group. As a result of his new membership in LiNK, he traveled to Los Angeles, trying to raise awareness of the human rights atrocities in North Korea. Shin’s job was to deliver passionate, electrifying speeches that would convince people to care about the political prisoners in North Korea and, implicitly, lobby their politicians to enact policies that might liberate these prisoners. However, Shin’s speeches were short and almost incomprehensible. He was shy and, far more importantly, he wasn’t ready to tell the full truth about his time in prison. Shin continued to feel guilty about his role in his mother and brother’s deaths, and he was reluctant to speak frankly about life in the prison camps because of what the truth revealed about himself (above all, that he was an accessory to murder). In all, the passage captures the agony of telling the truth: for a traumatized person like Shin, who’ll probably have to deal with intense guilt for the rest of his life, speaking honestly (much less entertainingly and convincingly) about the past is an enormous challenge.

Epilogue Quotes

That evening, his listeners squirmed in their pews, their faces showing discomfort, disgust, anger, and shock. Some faces were stained with tears. When Shin was finished, when he told the congregation that one man, if he refuses to be silenced, could help free the tens of thousands who remain in North Korean labor camps, the church exploded in applause.
In that speech, if not yet in his life, Shin had seized control of his past.

Related Characters: Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Epilogue to Escape From Camp 14, Harden discusses a speech that Shin gave in a church. For once, the speech was emotional, full of gripping details and frank discussions of Shin’s own role in the atrocities in the prison camps. The speech was also a resounding success; it moved the audience and convinced them to care about the suffering of North Korean prisoners.

If Shin could continue delivering speeches of this kind, Harden suggests, then the human rights movement would be much stronger. Human rights movements need strong, charismatic speakers to connect with the general public and arouse people’s compassion and outrage. The challenge, however, is that Shin isn’t ready to tell the full truth about his time in the prison camps. Indeed, Shin has altered his story several times since Escape From Camp 14 was first published—to the point where, it’s now clear, even the title of the book is inaccurate. Shin is locked in a sickening conundrum: he believes he can come to terms with his role in his mother and brother’s deaths by getting involved with activism, but he can’t speak out against the North Korean political prison system until he’s brave enough to talk about his own role in the atrocities. On this uncertain note, Escape From Camp 14 comes to a close. Perhaps one day, Shin will find the courage to talk about his own past and, in the same breath, resoundingly denounce the North Korean state.

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Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk Character Timeline in Escape from Camp 14

The timeline below shows where the character Shin In Geun / Shin Dong-hyuk appears in Escape from Camp 14. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Foreword
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The foreword begins, “Early in 2015, Shin Dong-hyuk changed his story.” Shin had become a world-famous witness to the atrocities in the... (full context)
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Shin had already recanted some of what he’d told Harden about his mother and brother’s deaths,... (full context)
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According to Shin’s new version of the truth, he escaped to China not once but twice, and lived... (full context)
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Shin claimed that his finger had been chopped off as punishment for breaking a sewing machine.... (full context)
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The North Korean government released propaganda videos in 2014, calling Shin a “parasite.” The videos claimed that Shin had been involved in his family member’s murders... (full context)
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Shin initially told Harden that he’d spent time in Shanghai before arriving in South Korea in... (full context)
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Shin now claims he escaped from Camp 18 twice, once in 1999 and once in 2000,... (full context)
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Shin has demonstrated his knowledge of Camp 14 many times, suggesting that he really did live... (full context)
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Shin could play a major role in bringing the world’s attention to the suffering and human... (full context)
Preface: A Teachable Moment
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The book begins, “His first memory is an execution.” When Shin In Geun is four years old, his mother walks him to a wheat field, where... (full context)
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At fourteen, Shin returns to the wheat field, where, once again, the guards have rounded up a crowd... (full context)
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That day, at the age of fourteen, Shin and his father are forced to stand in the crowd and watch as Shin’s mother... (full context)
Introduction: Never Heard the Word “Love”
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On January 2, 2005—nine years after his mother’s execution, at the age of 23—Shin escaped from Camp 14. He is believed to be the only person born in a... (full context)
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Shin is about the same age as Kim Jong Eun, who became the North Korean leader... (full context)
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...order to survive in a Nazi death camp, though he remembers his family with love. Shin’s story of survival is very different—his mother hit him and his father ignored him, and... (full context)
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Shin’s camp, Camp 14, has a reputation for being the toughest in North Korea. There are... (full context)
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Blaine Harden first met Shin in 2008, in downtown Seoul. With a translator’s help, Shin told Harden about watching his... (full context)
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Before meeting Shin, Harden had been unable to learn much about North Korea. The country ensured that all... (full context)
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Following the article, Harden decided that he wanted to write a book about Shin’s experiences. Shin took a long time to decide if he was interested in working with... (full context)
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...book on the camps. He spoke to South Korean human rights activists, as well as Shin’s friends and North Koreans who worked at the labor camps. Some have reported that Shin’s... (full context)
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Shin is ashamed of what he did to survive in the labor camps. He has refused... (full context)
Chapter 1: The Boy Who Ate His Mother’s Lunch
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Shin and his mother live in one of the best parts of Camp 14—a “model village,”... (full context)
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As a child, Shin eats the food his mother brought home for meeting her “daily work quota.” Sometimes, he... (full context)
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Shin’s father is named Shin Gyung Sub. Supposedly, the guards rewarded him with a marriage to... (full context)
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Growing up, Shin’s only source of certainty is the guards, who encourage him to snitch on his peers.... (full context)
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Shin feeds himself by catching rats, frogs, and bugs. Without these food sources, he could catch... (full context)
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Shin grows up in Camp 14, unaware that his country’s government can’t feed its own population.... (full context)
Chapter 2: School Days
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One day in the Camp 14 school, Shin’s teacher searches through the students’ pockets and finds five kernels of corn belonging to a... (full context)
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In school, Shin is given a new pair of shoes every two years and, if he’s been good,... (full context)
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Growing up, Shin is well aware what lies ahead for him: after finishing school, he’ll be working for... (full context)
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Perhaps Shin’s only friend is Hong Sung Jo. They play games together between classes, but they also... (full context)
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At ten, Shin begins working in coalmines, where he and his peers have to load coal into ore... (full context)
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Shin knows a boy named Ryu Hak Chul who sasses his teachers. One day, he ditches... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Upper Crust
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One day, at the age of nine, Shin is picking up coal that’s spilled from a passing railway car. Suddenly, the children of... (full context)
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The guards’ children see Shin and his classmates as “irredeemable sinners” who’ve betrayed their country. Beginning in 1957, Kim Il... (full context)
Chapter 4: Mother Tries to Escape
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On April 6, 1996, Shin’s teacher comes looking for him. Shin is blindfolded and handcuffed, and then driven out of... (full context)
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Shin told Harden about his time in the underground prison camp many times. He also told... (full context)
Chapter 5: Mother Tries to Escape, Version Two
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On April 5, 1996, Shin’s teacher tells him that as a reward for good behavior, he can go eat dinner... (full context)
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Shin listens to Jang and He Geun talk, and realizes that they’re planning to escape. Shin... (full context)
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The next day, guards arrive at school looking for Shin, blindfold and arrest him, and drive him away. But Shin already knew that guards would... (full context)
Chapter 6: This Son of a Bitch Won’t Do
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In the Camp 14 prison, guards demand to know if Shin knew about his family’s escape plans in advance. Shin is confused—he tipped off the guards... (full context)
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The guards show Shin a document listing his family members’ crimes against North Korea. Shin’s uncle, the document explains,... (full context)
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The guards then take Shin to a tiny prison cell. The next day, they bring him back for more interrogation.... (full context)
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Shin awakes on the floor of his cell. In the coming days, he is fed corn... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sun Shines Even on Mouse Holes
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Shin’s new cellmate is in his fifties, and his name is Kim Jin Myung—however, he asks... (full context)
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One day, the guards take Shin out of his cell and demand that he inform on Uncle. Back in the cell... (full context)
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After a few more weeks, the guards bring Shin his school uniform and order him to change. Before the leaving the cell, Shin grasps... (full context)
Chapter 8: Avoiding Mother’s Eyes
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The guards take Shin, dressed in his school uniform, into the room where he’d first been interrogated. It is... (full context)
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For years, Shin has lived in shame about the death of Jang and He Geun. He lied about... (full context)
Chapter 9: Reactionary Son of a Bitch
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...entire families to be executed. Usually, the executed parents’ children are never seen again. However, Shin has suggested to Harden that he was allowed to return to camp because he’d proven... (full context)
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Soon after returning to camp, Shin’s teacher—whose name, after two years, Shin still doesn’t know—confronts him. He wants to know why... (full context)
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On his second day back in school, Shin is sent to pull a cart of straw. The work re-opens some of his wounds,... (full context)
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Shin begins to hate his parents for giving birth to him within Camp 14. He hates... (full context)
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Shin catches a lucky break when his cruel teacher is replaced with another man. The new... (full context)
Chapter 10: Working Man
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In 1998, at the age of fifteen, Shin is working on a hydroelectric damn on the Taedong River. For the entire year, Shin... (full context)
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In Camp 14, the construction of the hydroelectric dam requires thousands of workers. Shin spends all his time near the dam, and he receives better food than usual, but... (full context)
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In 1999, Shin’s time in secondary school ends, meaning that his teacher assigns him and his classmates to... (full context)
Chapter 11: Napping on the Farm
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Shin’s time on the pig farm is some of his happiest at Camp 14. He doesn’t... (full context)
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Unbeknownst to Shin at the time, a system of corruption and “extralegal intercity travel” is growing, and this... (full context)
Chapter 12: Sewing and Snitching
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At the Camp 14 garment factory, Shin is responsible for repairing sewing machines—a tough job, since the machines break down constantly. Often,... (full context)
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During his time in the garment factory, Shin works alongside hundreds of woman. This creates sexual tension in the factory—especially because Shin is... (full context)
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In 2004, Shin accidentally breaks a heavy sewing machine it. His foreman, who’s been very patient with him... (full context)
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Snitching is very common in the factory. A coworker snitches on Shin for sneaking food from the vegetable garden outside. The next day, Shin is called into... (full context)
Chapter 13: Deciding Not to Snitch
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Shortly after informing on his coworker, Shin begins spying on a new prisoner named Park Yong Chul. Shin is under strict instructions... (full context)
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As time goes on, Park begins to open up about his past. He tells Shin that he is from Pyongyang—to Park’s amazement, Shin has never heard of the city (the... (full context)
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Looking back, Shin doesn’t believe that he refused to snitch on Park out of decency—rather, he was being... (full context)
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In 2003, Park tells Shin, he returned to North Korea to vote in the elections. Elections in North Korea are... (full context)
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In particular, Shin is struck by how elegantly Park carries himself when he eats his meals. Even when... (full context)
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...developed boils, and their skin begins to flake off. The prisoners are taken away, and Shin never sees them again. It’s then that Shin decides that “he had had enough. He... (full context)
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Park and Shin’s friendship was similar to the friendships that emerged at Nazi concentration camps, Harden writes. Often,... (full context)
Chapter 14: Preparing to Run
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Shin and Park develop a plan to escape from Camp 14. Shin will get them over... (full context)
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Shin plans for the escape by stealing warm clothes and shoes. There is another prisoner in... (full context)
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Before making his escape, Shin decides to visit his father, Shin Gyung Sub, one more time. He’s never had a... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Fence
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The next morning, Shin and Park wake up and set to work cutting wood for a fire. It is... (full context)
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Around four pm, Shin and Park sneak towards the fence, which is about ten feet high and consists of... (full context)
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It’s unclear how Shin survived the electric fence, but it appears that Park’s body transmitted the electric current from... (full context)
Chapter 16: Stealing
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Shin runs away from Camp 14 and reaches a farmer’s shed. Inside, he finds corn, a... (full context)
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The next morning, Shin wakes up early and begins to explore the town. He’s amazed to see North Koreans... (full context)
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Shin begins to associate with other homeless workers, modeling his behavior off of theirs. Traders show... (full context)
Chapter 17: Riding North
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Shin knows that he needs to move quickly or risk being executed. He walks nine miles... (full context)
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Shin arrives at the train station in Hamhung, a coastal factory city. There, he climbs into... (full context)
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Shin spends the next twenty days in Gilju with no coat, money, or sense of direction.... (full context)
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...country, and few people were actually dying of starvation (even though many were hungry). As Shin spends more time with the gang of teenaged thieves, he realizes that they have no... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Border
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Onboard the train northward, Shin learns about the Tumen River, a long river that forms much of the China-North Korean... (full context)
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The next morning, Shin sets out for Musan, a mining town near the border. A few soldiers stop him,... (full context)
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...wealthier and healthier. Then, in late 2004, North Korea began to prosecute defectors more harshly. Shin was extraordinarily lucky: when he crossed the border in January 2005, orders from the government... (full context)
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Shin reaches the final checkpoint and offers the soldier some cigarettes and candy. The soldier points... (full context)
Chapter 19: China
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Shin has just arrived in China. He walks away from the frozen river, toward a nearby... (full context)
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The next day, Shin continues to beg Korean locals for food or help; one man gives him two apples.... (full context)
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Shin’s relationship with the pig farmer quickly sours. Shin finds two other North Korean defectors, and... (full context)
Chapter 20: Asylum
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For ten months, Shin lives on the ranch where the pig farmer left him. He works alongside two Chinese... (full context)
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...that listening to the radio motivated them to leave North Korea in the first place. Shin loves listening to the radio because it feels good to hear Korean; however, because Shin... (full context)
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Toward the end of 2005, Shin decides to travel southwest, find some friendly Koreans, and get a stable job. He’s essentially... (full context)
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Shin travels to Beijing, where he tries to find work in a restaurant, but doesn’t succeed.... (full context)
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In Shanghai, Shin resumes his search for restaurant work. At one restaurant, he happens to meet a journalist... (full context)
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After living in the consulate for six months, Shin’s papers come through, and the journalist arranges for him to travel to Seoul. There, the... (full context)
Chapter 21: K’uredit K’adus
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After he speaks with intelligence officials, Shin is sent to a “government-run resettlement center” near Seoul. There, he spends time talking with... (full context)
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After a month in his new home, Shin begins to have nightmares and traumatic flashbacks to the day of his mother’s death. He... (full context)
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Shin continues to suffer from nightmares as his time in the resettlement center goes on. His... (full context)
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Shin begins keeping a therapeutic diary at the recommendation of his counselor. The counselor encourages Shin... (full context)
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In 2008, Shin is invited to tour the United States and speak about his experiences at Camp 14.... (full context)
Chapter 22: South Koreans Are Not So Interested
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On Shin’s 26th birthday, four of his friends take him to dinner at T.G.I. Friday’s in Seoul.... (full context)
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Birthday celebrations aside, Shin’s time in Seoul is generally sad and lonely. He has a few friends, but he... (full context)
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During their first meeting, Harden asks Shin about the camps. Shin, who’s recently watched footage of the Nazi concentration camps, tells Harden... (full context)
Chapter 23: U.S.A.
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A few years after the events of the last chapter, Shin stands in front of a small audience in Los Angeles, speaking—as always—about Camp 14. As... (full context)
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Harden has asked Shin why he finds it so hard to talk about his life. Shin explains that he... (full context)
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Shin begins living with a pastor’s wife named Kyung Soon Chung, who cooks for him and... (full context)
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...Korean can get by without speaking a word of English—there’s a huge Korean population there. Shin learns enough English to get by in Los Angeles, but little more—he spends most of... (full context)
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During Shin’s second year in California, he meets Harim Lee, a young woman from Seoul who moved... (full context)
Epilogue: No Escape
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In February 2011, Shin flies to Washington State and moves in with Harim and her family. Harden, who lives... (full context)
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Harden has conducted many interviews with Shin in preparation for their book. But Harden is still curious about Shin’s life—in particular, he... (full context)
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Harim and Shin form an NGO called North Korea Freedom Plexus. They raise money with the goal of... (full context)
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Shin invites Harden to watch him give a speech at a Korean church in Seattle. There,... (full context)