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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

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Overview


The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escaped
 

North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin ...

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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom inthe West

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Overview


The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escaped
 

North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.
 
In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.
 
The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist.
 
Harden’s harrowing narrative exposes this hidden dystopia, focusing on an extraordinary young man who came of age inside the highest security prison in the highest security state. Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrew Salmon
While Shin's story has been told before, Harden tells it well. He also corrects errors in earlier accounts…He neither paints Shin as a hero nor depicts his survival as a triumph of the spirit. Shin suffers brutalities and is brutalized in the process…While the horrors of the Russian gulag, Nazi genocide and Cambodian mass murders have been amply documented, North Korea's grisly conditions remain shadowy and under-publicized. In depicting the depravity of North Korean prison life, Harden's book is an important portrait of man's inhumanity to man.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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, the only known person born into one of North Korea’s secretive prison labor camps who has managed to escape and now lives in the U.S. Harden structures Shin’s horrific experience—which includes witnessing the execution of his brother and sister after their escape plan is discovered—around an examination of the role that political imprisonment and forced labor play in North Korea and the country’s fraught relationship with its economically prosperous neighbors South Korea and China While Shin eventually succeeds in escaping North Korea’s brutal dictatorship, adjusting to his new life proves to be extraordinarily difficult, and he wrestles with his complicity in the atrocities of his past—he informed on his mother and other brother, which led to their execution. “I was more faithful to the guards than to my family. We were each other’s spies,” he confesses. Harden wisely avoids depicting the West as a panacea for Shin’s trauma, instead leaving the reader to wonder whether Shin will ever be able to reconcile his past with the present. Harden notes both the difficulty of obtaining information about daily existence in North Korea and of fact-checking such information (including Shin’s own version of events), and the book’s brevity may leave readers wanting more from this brisk, brutal, sorrowful read. (Apr.)
Literary Review

“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.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“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.”

The Oregonian

“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. [Harden] 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 that can be done to bring about change.”

CNN

“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.”

The Seattle 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.”

Christian Science Monitor

“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.”

The Daily Beast

“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 Wall Street Journal

“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.”

Associated Press Staff

“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.”

Library Journal
This is a relentlessly disturbing book, more so because Harden (former East Asia bureau chief, Washington Post) presents the facts dispassionately. Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in 1982 in one of North Korea's gulags, Camp 14, which covers 108 square miles and holds about 50,000 prisoners. In a world of horrific living conditions, brutal punishments, and competition for minimal scraps of food (supplemented by secret hunting for frogs, rats, and bugs), Shin was oblivious of such concepts as affection or honesty, knowing only the instinct to survive. Seeking to be a dutiful prisoner, at age 13 he informed on his mother and elder brother who planned to escape. Shin saw them beaten and killed, which at the time affected him little. At 23, he escaped, one of few to do so and survive. VERDICT Following Shin's story from North Korea to China to South Korea and eventually to the States and connecting it to the larger story of North Korea's dictatorship and culture, Harden (who has met Shin several times since 2008) 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.—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
The chilling story of a prisoner in North Korea. Born in Labor Camp 14, the child of political prisoners, Shin Dong-hyuk spent 23 years imprisoned, initially with his mother and other families in cramped quarters with no running water, no furniture and little soap. For protein, there were insects and rats. For a while, there was school, one without books or real education. Nothing was taught about the outside world, other than that it was peopled by enemies. At age 10 Shin began mining coal for the love of the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. As an adolescent he was tortured viciously in an underground cell, and then taken to witness the execution of his mother and brother. He was not affected by the spectacle; he did not grieve. They had spoken of escape, and Shin had reported them. After learning from older prisoners about other lands and the foods to be had there, he planned his own escape. Through a series of improbable events, he made it to China, South Korea and then America. His spiritual journey--still in progress--has not been easy. His is one man's remarkable story of deliverance from a hidden land where fact-checking is virtually impossible. Economist contributor Harden (A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia, 1996, etc.), nevertheless, has done his research, and Shin's adventure largely conforms to those of the few others who have escaped captivity. The text was completed before the Dear Leader's death. Camp 14 has been in operation for half a century, and we can only suppose that the new, baby-faced Supreme Leader will continue the legacy of the dynasty. A terrifying story of brutal captivity and unremitting misery and the difficult adjustment to subsequent life in a very different place.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143122913
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 19,940
  • Lexile: 1130L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Blaine Harden is a reporter for PBS's FRONTLINE and a contributor to the Economist, and has served as The Washington Post's bureau chief in East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He is the author of Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent and A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 262 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(158)

4 Star

(60)

3 Star

(20)

2 Star

(10)

1 Star

(14)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 262 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing, profoundly moving book. This is the story of a North K

    Amazing, profoundly moving book. This is the story of a North Korean who somehow escaped the prisons of his country to escape to the United States, but not without having a role in the tragic deaths of many members of his family. It depicts the brutal atrocities of a tyrannical regime, and leaves the reader profoundly affected by his story. How would we behave if put into the same situation? It made me look at Kim Jong Il, his father, and the government of North Korea in a way I've never imagined before.
    There have been some great books by Korean authors recently, which I would also highly recommend.
    "Please Look After Mom" is a poignant tale of a Korean mother who goes missing, and her family's attempts to locate her. It's told from four points of view.
    "In Stitches" is the memoir of a second generation Korean American who was raised by a tyrannical Korean immigrant father, and how he overcame his childhood to become a doctor. A fast, funny, and heartwarming read. I highly recommend on three of these books!

    29 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    A must read

    This book tells a story similar to the hunger games. Except this story is not fiction. How can we as humans continue to turn a blind eye to what North Korea is doing? There but for fortune go you or I.

    19 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This book was such a disappointment. What was a potentially gri

    This book was such a disappointment. What was a potentially gripping escape story, it was turned into a boring compilation of one North Korean refugee's story mixed with miscellaneous tedious facts about North Korea. The writer who is a reporter does just that - report the facts or what may be facts since he even doubts the truthfulness of his subject, Shin. The story telling is brain numbing because he detracts the reader with tedious facts about North Korea and fails to personalize Shin the North Korean refugee. One paragraph he's describing Shin's escape, the next he's giving statistics of the number of North Korean refugees that manages to escape to China and eventually South Korea. This is a terrible survivor's story and the writer does a great injustice in bringing the horrific ordeal Shin had to endure in the North Korean labor camps and his struggles thereafter. I wish they would just translate Shin's own memoir into English because I don't think Mr. Harden deserves to split the proceeds of this book "fifty-fifty" with Shin.

    8 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2012

    Oh, the inhumanity!

    This book seemlessly blends a horrifying first person account of Shim, a young man born out of a loveless "reward marriage" in a North Korean prison camp with background information about North Korea. I learned much about the region from reading this book as well as the struggles Shin continually faces as he struggles to overcome the psychological trauma from his years in Csmp 24.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2012

    This book has a lot to envy

    This book was a major disappointment. The writing is pretty horrid; it somehow takes an exciting story and dulls it down. It seems as though this book could be half as long as it was. Random facts are thrown in willy nilly to lengthen the book. This would be fine if the facts weren't already well known and completely cherry picked from better books that came out last year. The book "Nothing to Envy" is far superior to this piece. This is evidenced by the amount of covert, and sometimes overt, facts taken straight from that book. Half of this book is a repeat of what the Nothing to Envy author actually wrote. Since one cannot copyright facts, this author can simply steal facts from that book and repeat them as his own. I felt ripped off buying this after I read Nothing to Envy. The escapees story is good, but about 50 pages worth of text. The rest is from Nothing to Envy. Read that before this. Don't buy both. That was my mistaked.

    6 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Absolutely gripping

    In tthe US (east coast near Washington DC) it is difficult to imagine the life of the "political prisoner" in North Korea. This young man's story is superbly told. Read it. You will be enlightened.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2012

    Fascinating read about such a little known place

    I read this non-fiction account of the life of a man born into a labor camp in N Korea, who was able to defect to China and ultimately make it to S Korea and then to the USA. That someone could live to adulthood and never hear the word love nor even experience the emotion speaks volumes. Prior to reading this, I read the novel "The Orphan Master's Son" and after this book I read "Nothing To Envy", a non-fiction account of the loves of 6 defectors. Together, these three books opened my eyes to the isolation and cruelty perpetrated by the Kim dynasty. I highly recommend this book, even on its own.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2012

    highly recommend

    this is just an amazing book. it reminds us of shattered lives due to a horrible government. How hard it is for a person to deal with a great trajedy in his life, I cant imagine carrying around all the pain Shin has to carry on a daily basis. We as a country need to figure a way to help stop this, we think about how sad the holacast is and is but this is just as bad. it is amazing that we as a worls can put up with this. this is just an amazing story and everyone needs to read this and think about what is happening in North Korea

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2012

    Wow!

    I heard about this book on NPR and had never heard of "work camps" in North Korea. I don't know much about North Korea so I found this book informative. It's hard to not feel very fortunate for all the freedoms you have after reading this book. I'm also haunted by the fact that these camps still exist as they are no different than concentration camps. Shin's story is amazing but you find his escape was only a physical one...

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012

    Remarkable story

    From his birth he was just another mouth for his mother to feed and another drone for the many industries in Camp 14. His struggles inside and outside the camp are very powerful and gritty.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2012

    Simply amazing book. It is hard to believe that these conditions

    Simply amazing book. It is hard to believe that these conditions still exist in the world. Before reading this book, I watched a National Geographic documentary (see Netflix) about North Korea which really complemented this story. I would recommend this book highly- well written, matter of fact, unbiased. A must read.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2012

    Anonymous

    I really thought highly of this book. It was well written. I cant believe that Korean's have to go through this.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2012

    A terrifc read!

    It is amazing...our human will to survive. I loved this book. It is a quick read at only 189 pages. When I finished the book, I went to Google Earth and actually found the camp and traced his journey. (You can actually type into the google earth search " camp 14". I recommend the book highly.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012

    Good read

    I purchased and read this book on a whim. I found that, as is common with a growing number of people in America, I had a remarkable lack of knowledge about what is going on in the world. While, as others have noted, Escape can at times be a combersome read I am still very pleased with my purchase.
    After reading this book, I wanted more info on the living conditions in North Korea. I read Nothing to Envy, as was recommended by other reviewers. I recommend both books.
    Escape follows the struggle of a political prisoner born and raised in a prison camp, the statistical information and history lessons about North Korea are less detailed and largely duplicated as in Nothing to Envy. I still feel, however, that Escape provides further, valuable insight into the human rights issues in North Korea.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    As I read the reviews of others, I can't help but wonder-have we

    As I read the reviews of others, I can't help but wonder-have we read the same book? Shin Dong-hyuk's story is harrowing enough on its own; it does not need much elaboration. Therefore, I very much looked forward to Escape from Camp 14, guessing at its wonderful potential. However, in the hands of Blaine Harden, it fell short of my expectations.

    The book as a whole felt unsubstantial and wobbly. Harden's own confession that he had a difficult time trusting Shin's narrative doesn't inspire much confidence in the veracity of the text. I can understand Shin's reluctance to (truthfully) divulge events that depict him in a negative light. However, his 'little white lies' make it difficult to trust his account of events.

    Making matters worse, Escape is poorly written, organized and executed. Sentences are clunky and disjointed and rarely flowed together. Harden would switch between ideas, stories and trains of thought at the drop of a hat, leaving me with reader's whiplash. I can excuse a few poor transitions here and there, but 200 pages worth makes for an unpleasant reading experience.

    In the hands of a different author, Escape would have been a fantastic, much needed expose of North Korean human rights abuses. However, in the hands of Blain Harden, it fizzled.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2012

    This book reveals the depravity of some humans.

    This is a fascinating, saddening, shocking read of the cruelty that humans can impose upon other humans. It also clearly shows the insurmountable results of that cruelty in this man's life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2012

    good read

    After reading this book I realize how fantastic living in the free world is

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    Highly recommended. This is something that most Amricans are not aware of.

    It was amazing to read something that is so hidden away in the year 2012. So much is no longer private in our lives, how can this be going on without being in the news media? Why is it going on without the world doing something to stop it.

    The book was very precise and the horrifying part is that it is happening now.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    North Korea is a real piece of

    While the actual story part is short, it makes sense when you realize that the subject is not used to expressing emotions or detailing out his actions and why. It's just incredible that this is a true story and this really goes on. And, even more interesting that those that do physically escape, never really escape the harm does by these lunatics running North Korea.
    Very educational. Recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    Extremely well written. The Holocaust still Lives.I just don't understand the Powers in this world allow this.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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