Blaine Harden

Even as Myanmar/Burma shows sign of cracking, North Korea's three-generation dictatorship remains solid and inscrutable to journalists like Blaine Harden, who covered East Asia for The Washington Post. Today based in Seattle, he found an unlikely source for his Escape From Camp 14 (Viking, $26.95): a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean prison camp. His parents, political prisoners, were forced into an arranged marriage. Shin was raised in a slave colony whose residents would do anything for food—lie, cheat, betray friends and family, anything to fill their bellies. Conditions are as brutal as you'd expect; in one horrific episode, young Shin watches a teacher beat a girl to death in class. (She just kneels and submits, since that's the way they're trained.) Later, family members are also killed before his eyes. Barely literate, with no knowledge of the world beyond the electric fence, Shin begins to dream of escape not out of heroic principle but desperate hunger—he craves meat. North Korea's gulag system, estimated to hold some 200,000 inmates, is like a Skinner box that stunts and shapes the mind. Before Shin's 2005 escape to China, one of his few benefactors "explained that the world was round." A few years later, living in the U.S., he's giving a talk at Google. Tonight, as Harden will explain, Shin's assimilation to the West has been difficult—one extraordinary case study from among the 24 million who might one day merge with the south. BRIAN MILLER

Mon., April 16, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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