The no frills, matter-of-factness with which the details of life in a labor camp are laid out gave it a gut-wrenching punch thats difficult to describe. There were some chapters I had to stop in the middle of just to fathom how hellish and how 'other' reality is for this country. Some images and scenes will be forever burned into memory. The comparison this book made that has yet to leave me now months after reading this is that concentration camps in Nazi Germany, in many cases (Aushwitz for example) were open for only 3 years. These North Korean labor camps have been running for 50 years, starving entire generations and in some ways creating even more insidious torture for people who are born, raised and die there without ever knowing a different life. You cannot read this book and keep your world view intact, it will be changed.
Shin of course was a captivating character. A balanced portrayal of a life scarred in so many ways and yet resilient. You want to hug him, hate him, cry for him, sometimes all at the same time.
The absence of dramatic effects, almost like a black and white film vs an over the top computer generated film give the facts this story roll out a piercing quality that pokes all the way to the reader's soul. Seriously, I did have to stop and digest some of the scenes and ask myself how far can humanity really go when turned on itself.
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