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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West Paperback – March 26, 2013
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Blaine Harden's chronicle of Shin Dong-hyuk's life in a North Korean prison camp and his eventual escape is a slim, searing, humble book—as close to perfect as these volumes of anguished testimony can be. — Blaine Harden
"Harden’s book, besides being a gripping story, unsparingly told, carries a freight of intelligence about this black hole of a country." —Bill Keller, The New York Times
“The central character in Blaine Harden's extraordinary new book Escape from Camp 14 reveals more in 200 pages about human darkness in the ghastliest corner of the world's cruelest dictatorship than a thousand textbooks ever could . . . Escape from Camp 14, the story of Shin's awakening, escape and new beginning, is a riveting, remarkable book that should be required reading in every high-school or college-civics class. Like "The Diary of Anne Frank" or Dith Pran's account of his flight from Pol Pot's genocide in Cambodia, it's impossible to read this excruciatingly personal account of systemic monstrosities without fearing you might just swallow your own heart . . . Harden's wisdom as a writer shines on every page.” —The Seattle Times"U.S. policymakers wonder what changes may arise after the recent death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, this gripping book should raise awareness of the brutality that underscores this strange land. Without interrupting the narrative, Harden skillfully weaves in details of North Korea's history, politics and society, providing context for Shin's plight.” —The Associated Press
“A book without parallel, Escape from Camp 14 is a riveting nightmare that bears witness to the worst inhumanity, an unbearable tragedy magnified by the fact that the horror continues at this very moment without an end in sight.” —Terry Hong, Christian Science Monitor
“A remarkable story, [Escape from Camp 14 ] is a searing account of one man’s incarceration and personal awakening in North Korea’s highest-security prison.” —The Wall Street Journal
“As an action story, the tale of Shin’s breakout and flight is pure The Great Escape, full of feats of desperate bravery and miraculous good luck. As a human story it is gut wrenching; if what he was made to endure, especially that he was forced to view his own family merely as competitors for food, was written in a movie script, you would think the writer was overreaching. But perhaps most important is the light the book shines on an under-discussed issue, an issue on which the West may one day be called into account for its inactivity.” —The Daily Beast
“A riveting new biography . . . If you want a singular perspective on what goes on inside the rogue regime, then you must read [this] story. It’s a harrowing tale of endurance and courage, at times grim but ultimately life-affirming.” —CNN
“[Shin’s] tale becomes even more gripping after his unprecedented journey . . . after he realizes that he has been raised as something less than human. He gradually, haltingly—and, so far, with mixed success—sets out to remake himself as a moral, feeling human being.” —Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post
“If you have a soul, you will be changed forever by Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14 . . . Harden masterfully allows us to know Shin, not as a giant but as a man, struggling to understand what was done to him and what he was forced to do to survive. By doing so, Escape from Camp 14 stands as a searing indictment of a depraved regime and a tribute to all those who cling to their humanity in the face of evil.”—Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times bestselling author of Lost in Shangri-La
"This is a story unlike any other . . . More so than any other book on North Korea, including my own, Escape from Camp 14 exposes the cruelty that is the underpinning of Kim Jong Il’s regime. Blaine Harden, a veteran foreign correspondent from The Washington Post, tells this story masterfully . . . The integrity of this book, shines through on every page.” —Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“In Escape from Camp 14, Harden chronicles Shin’s amazing journey, from his very first memory—a public execution he witnessed as a 4-year-old—to his work with human rights advocacy groups in South Korea and the United States . . . By retelling Shin’s against-all-odds exodus, Harden casts a harsh light on a moral embarrassment that has existed 12 times longer than the Nazi concentration camps. Readers won’t be able to forget Shin’s boyish, emancipated smile—the new face of freedom trumping repression.” —Will Lizlo, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Blaine Harden of the Washington Post is an experienced reporter of other hellholes, such as the Congo, Serbia, and Ethiopia. These, he makes clear, are success stories compared to North Korea . . . Harden deserves a lot more than; ‘wow’ for this terrifying, grim and, at the very end, slightly hopeful story of a damaged man still alive only by chance, whose life, even in freedom, has been dreadful.” —Literary Review
“Harden tells a gripping story. Readers learn of Shin’s gradual discovery of the world at large, nonadversarial human relationships, literature, and hope—and the struggles ahead. A book that all adults should read.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] chilling [and] remarkable story of deliverance from a hidden land.” —Kirkus Reviews
“With a protagonist born into a life of backbreaking labor, cutthroat rivalries, and a nearly complete absence of human affection, Harden’s book reads like a dystopian thriller. But this isn’t fiction—it’s the biography of Shin Dong-hyuk.” —Publishers Weekly
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Top customer reviews
Before I listened to the audio book, I had a vague idea of North Korea. For example, NKorean dictator, Kim Jung Il is less human, mentally ill and very dangerous. He exploited NKoreans and let them starve to death. As the author mentioned in the book, I was one of many SKoreans who were simply ignorant and indifferent to Nkorea. I felt sorry for them but that was it. Their story was one of the typical stories of poor communist countries. Their miserable and horrible story did not affect me on personal level until I encountered the book. It was a shocking and eye opening experience to me. Its horrifying story scared me to death. I had to pause many times listening to the book because I could not stop crying, or simply bear his horrible experience any more.
After reading the book, I referred it to my family and friends hoping that more SKoreans be aware of the serious problems of NKoreans. I pray for NKoreans whose rights have been completely violated by their greedy, stupid, and less human dictators, Kim's family. I still do not know what exactly I can do to help NKoreans but I will make my efforts to let more SKoreans know the dire reality of NKoreans. I will continue to have interest in unification of two Koreas and support LiNK (Liberty in North Korean).
Again, I sincerely thank to Shin whose courage is indescribable, unimaginable, and inspirational. Thanks to him, I realize that my complaints on life is just luxurious excuses. I envy his inner strength. I pray for his inner peace and freedom. I am also grateful to the author who made Shin's story available to the world in such a powerful way.
My reason for the rating, however, was that I did not find it well written; at times it was confusing jumping from time and place. It detracted from Shin's life story and did not run as smoothly as it could have within a different format.
How this man survived the brutality of a 'Total Control' North Korean prison camp is impossible to conceive. From watching classmates being beaten to death and his mother and brother being executed, to being tortured over hot coals at the age of 13 and suffering near starvation for the first 24 years of his life, to the soul-destroying work ethic and unparalleled cruelty of the prison guards, how Shin Dong-hyuk is still alive, let alone now living happily in America, is breathtaking. His story is heartbreaking from the very beginning, yet his ability to keep on going in the face of absolute punishment will inspire all who read about it. The worst day you've ever had, will likely pale in comparison to a normal day in the life of this guy.
Blaine Harden has done a great job of presenting the details, and obviously cultivated a strong relationship with Shin. The book is short but there's more than enough in there for you to appreciate the gravity of the situation in North Korea, and its relationship with both South Korea and China.
Worth every penny.