Escape from Camp 14

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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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)
Tyranny and the North Korean State Theme Icon
Survival, Self-interest, and Morality Theme Icon
Indoctrination and Brainwashing Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Activism and Indifference Theme Icon
Shin invites Harden to watch him give a speech at a Korean church in Seattle. There,... (full context)