How North Korean defector's story unraveled

Story highlights

  • Shin Dong-hyuk made a "sanitized" version of his life story after escaping
  • He decided to consistently tell this version until North Korea released video featuring his father in 2014
  • A new foreword will be added to book "Escape from Camp 14"

(CNN)The North Korean prison camp survivor who is the focus of a best-selling biography, "Escape from Camp 14" said he changed parts of his life story, shaping them to hide from his trauma and shame.

Shortly after escaping from North Korea, Shin Dong-hyuk formulated what he called a "sanitized" version of the his life, which he repeated for almost 10 years and subsequently became a book, which was published in 2012.
    That book describing his time in a North Korean prison camp became a best-seller, made him a key witness before the United Nations and grabbed headlines around the world.
    But last month, Shin revealed that parts of his story were not true and that he spent most of his life in North Korea at a different prison camp, Camp 18, rather than the total control zone that formed the title of his biography. While Shin stands by his allegations of torture and abuses by North Koreans, his admission stirred controversy about truth and trauma among defectors.

    Book's new foreword

    The text of the book, "Escape from Camp 14" won't be corrected, according to the Washington Post, which was the newspaper where its author, Blaine Harden worked when he initially interviewed Shin.
    However, a new foreword will be added to the ebook and future prints, wrote Harden on his website.
    "Shin told me he is now determined to tell the truth. Regrettably, he has told me this before. It seems prudent to expect more revisions," Harden wrote.
    But the author also acknowledged the role of psychological trauma for Shin, who is missing part of his right middle finger and bears scars of torture.
    "Trauma victims like him tend to struggle with the truth, especially in the linear narrative form that journalists, judges, and policy makers are best able to understand. The memories of trauma victims are often fragmented and out of sequence, and the stories they tell can be shields behind which they try to hide," he wrote.

    How the story unraveled

    Shin said he would've covered up the inaccuracies in his life story "forever if my father hadn't appeared in the video."
    In October 2014, North Korea uploaded videos on YouTube featuring Shin's father who disputed his son's widely publicized life story. The video raised suspicions among other survivors of Camp 18 who questioned Shin's story.
    And some of those questions still persist including how he escaped and found his way to China. Those questions may never be answered with any certainty.
    "Raised in a dysfunctional family in a secret prison, badly educated, and tortured, he is a flawed eyewitness to the savagery of the world's last totalitarian state," wrote Harden.