After reading The Girl With Seven Names which I reviewed here, (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/the-girl-with-seven-names/) my son suggested I read this book that he has sitting on his shelf. With North Korea in the news lately, I was intrigued by the people’s resilient that I decided to plunge it.
Some people would say the content is quite similar if you compare the books about North Korean refugees. I agree. But what makes this book slightly different is the psychology behind the person. Like the book (and now movie), Room, the book delve into the question : what is you were born inside a labour camp as a slave and know no other lives?
Blaine Harden was a journalist who interviewed Shin In Geun and other North Koreans defectors. While the book chiefly narrated the story of Shin, it also highlighted other people, as a way to counter check the authenticity of the story, which the author stressed many times.
Shin was born to parents who were matched in prisons and born in a labour camp. One cannot choose the parents we want, for which he father apologised to him about it. He resented his parents deeply, not because he was born to them, but for the things he thought they did in prison that resulted in him being punished instead, like his mother and brother plotting an escape but was snitched by him for credit, but instead, his credit was stolen by his teacher and he was punished.
Unlike the other book, he was not sold on the Kim Dynasty propaganda, and have no knowledge of electronics, the world, history, morals that we take for granted. Instead, he thought his world of slavery, the snitching on his family and friends, and the punishment and the constant hunger was normal, until he met a fellow prisoner who told him about the outside world and the food he ate. That’s when both plotted to escape the camp. The other man was killed in the electric fence and somehow insulated Shin’s own death.
Shin is a lucky chap, considering that he has no concept of money, no relatives outside and yet he made his way to South Korea and USA. Still, adjustment was hard even if there is freedom. “Nearly all defectors show clinical symptoms of paranoia. They are afraid of disclosing their names, ages or place of birth. They tend not to say ‘thank you and sorry”.”During field trips to the movies, young defectors often panic when lights go down, afraid that someone might kidnap them….They find it incredible that money is stored in plastic. Pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers give them indigestion. So does too much rice.”
The biggest difference in Shin and other defectors is that he had no love from birth and have problems dealing with emotions. Thus, it was until he received care and love that he was plagued with guilt from snitching on his mother and brother and causing them to be executed in public.
The brutality of labout camp is what prompted this book, which human rights activists want more to be done.
The fact that this is a true story makes it all the more sickening.