In 2007, at the conclusion of a news conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a young man received an unusual request: He was asked to remove his trousers. A reporter found the story he had just told so astonishing that she demanded physical evidence of its veracity.
Trembling, the man did so. A horrified gasp went around the room: His lower body was a lacework of scars.
His name was Shin Dong-hyuk, and his legs had been mutilated by electrified barbed wire as he crawled over the smoking corpse of a fellow prisoner to escape North Korea’s most notorious — and previously inescapable — political prison camp.
Shin’s existence in the camp and his escape to the unknown world beyond its fences is the remarkable and harrowing tale that former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden recounts in spare, unadorned prose in “Escape From Camp 14.”
North Korea is arguably the most insulated, repressive nation on Earth, a dystopia with a vast gulag imprisoning 200,000 people, according to Amnesty International. The gulag’s most feared prison is “Total Control Camp 14,” where Shin was born and narrowly survived, and from which he eventually fled. He is believed to be the only person ever to escape. North Korean defectors in Seoul were agog when they learned of his feat.