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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West Hardcover – March 29, 2012
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“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
“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
"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
“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 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.”—Associated Press
“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
“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
“Harden expertly interleaves thoughtful reports on the larger North Korean context into the more personal part of the narrative. Precise and lucid, he fills us in on this totalitarian state's workings, its international relations and its devastating famines…This book packs a huge wallop in its short 200 pages. The author sticks to the facts and avoids an emotionally exploitative tone -- but those facts are more than enough to rend at our hearts, to make us want to seek out more information and to ask if there isn't more than can be done to bring about change.”—Damien Kilby, The Oregonian
"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
“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)
"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
“[A] chilling [and] remarkable story of deliverance from a hidden land.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Through the extraordinary arc of Shin's life, Harden illuminates the North Korea that exists beyond the headlines and creates a moving testament to one man's struggle to retrieve his own lost humanity."---Marcus Noland, co-author of Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea
“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
"Mr. Shin's story, at times painful to read, recounts his physical and psychological journey from a lifetime of imprisonment in a closed and unfeeling prison society to the joys and challenges of life in a free society where he can live like a human being."---Kongdan Oh, co-author of The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom
“Many good books will be published this year. This one is absolutely unique…Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only person born in a North Korean political camp to escape and defect. He told his story at length to veteran foreign correspondent Blaine Harden, who wrote this extraordinary book…I don't say that there's an answer to the issues raised by this book. But there is a question. And the question is: "High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't bomb the rail lines to Hitler's caps. Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il's camps and did nothing." This is tough reading. Read it.”—Don Graham, CEO of The Washington Post
"An unforgettable adventure story, a coming-of-age memoir of the worst childhood imaginable."—Slate
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Escape From Camp 14 is his story as told to Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden. It details the inhuman existence that is life within Camp 14, where prisoners are pressured to inform on each other including their own family, where punishments are harsh and handed out at the whim of their superiors be they prison guards or fellow prisoners designated as supervisors. Life is cheap within Camp 14, beatings can be so extreme they result in death, there are regular public executions and possibly much more regular private executions. Anyone caught trying to escape is executed, and members of their family face reprisals. Born into such an existence Shen knew no other way of life, he knew nothing of the world outside of the camp, that is until he met a new inmate who gradually enlightened him, and fuelled his desire for escape.
This is an easy read in that the prose is fluent and very accessible, but it if far from an easy read when considering its content, the descriptions of life in Camp 14 do not make for comfortable reading. Harden eases the readers progress through Shin's harrowing account by regularly interspersing it with facts about life in North Korea, Korea's history and its relations with the rest of the world.
This is a story that deserves to be told, and that needs to be read. It is much more than a heart wrenching account of the terrible existence that is life in the North Korean prison camps. It raises questions about life in general in North Korea where the people are kept in awe of its leader Kim Jong-il (the proof copy I read was completed before the succession, the published edition will have been updated by the author), where they are kept in ignorance of the rest of the world, where they are told that they, the people of North Korea and their regime, are the envy of the world.
North Korea will not admit to the existence of these camps, but China, the US and the rest of the world knows they do exist and have existed for around half a century, and satellite images readily available on the Net clearly reveal them. But Shin's story raises more questions, notable about the difficulties of adapting to life in the free world for those raised under North Korea's repressive regime. Shin has not found it easy, and unlike the general populace of the country he has not been brainwashed.
Hopefully Shin's account will raise awareness of these North Korean prison camps, and of the deprivations of life in general in that country, and the difficulties of assimilation for those who do make it out of the country.
Shin was born in a North Korean labor camp in 1982. His "crime," as he learned many years later, was that two of his uncles defected from North Korea to South Korea (as tens of thousands of others did)--in 1951. He is the only known person born in a North Korean labor camp to escape and defect.
His treatment was horrifying--and routine. In camp he was starved and beaten all the time--as was every other prisoner. His earliest memory is of an execution (everyone in the camp, including children, had to watch them). As a punishment when he broke a sewing machine, a guard cut off one of his fingers.
No matter what I write, you cannot understand the brutality of Camp 14 unless you read this book. Blaine Harden's cold, unsparing prose tells Shin's story in a way that anyone can read it, though no one will quite believe it (I knew Blaine for years while he worked at The Washington Post. I don't believe I'm influenced in the least by my admiration for him in what I'm writing--the shock of the book is too great for that).
There are no answers to the questions raised by Escape from Camp 14. The State Department estimates that 200,000 people live in such camps (you can see them on Google Earth), and most live out their short lives there since they are worked unsparingly and given little food and few clothes. What should be done about it? I don't know. But those who read this amazing book will know a few things about the North Korean regime that others cannot.
This book has deeply affected me. I view food differently now. It has even affected my relationships.
I must issue a warning however. The events in this narrative are truly disturbing. It has been less than 24 hours since I finished reading Escape from Camp 14 and I can't stop thinking about Shin.
Fortunately, Blaine Harden provides a detailed bibliography for the interested reader which I definitely plan to consult.
Truly, North Korea is the world's largest prison and Shin's account deserves to be heard. The Kim family in North Korea must and will answer for the crimes against Shin and the thousands of others who have suffered at their hands. To settle for anything less is simply not human.