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

( 267 )

Overview

A New York Times bestseller, the shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.

North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very ...

See more details below
Hardcover
$19.98
BN.com price
(Save 25%)$26.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (40) from $3.25   
  • New (12) from $7.17   
  • Used (28) from $3.25   
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$12.99
BN.com price
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview

A New York Times bestseller, the shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.

North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Donghyuk did.

In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin's life unlocks the secrets of the world's most repressive totalitarian state. 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 own family. Through Harden's harrowing narrative of Shin's life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world's darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

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.)
From the Publisher
"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

“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

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.
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
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023325
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/29/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 177,285
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.84 (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.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14There is no “human rights issue” in this country, as everyone leads the most dignified and happy life.

—[North] Korean Central News Agency, March 6, 2009

PREFACE

A TEACHABLE MOMENT

His first memory is an execution.

He walked with his mother to a wheat field near the Taedong River, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. Excited by the crowd, the boy crawled between adult legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a supervising guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labor, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government. To prevent the prisoner from cursing the state that was about to take his life, guards stuffed pebbles into his mouth, then covered his head with a hood.

At that first execution, Shin watched three guards take aim. Each fired three times. The reports of their rifles terrified the boy and he fell over backward. But he scrambled to his feet in time to see guards untie a slack, blood-spattered body, wrap it in a blanket, and heave it into a cart.

In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them. The labor camp used a public killing—and the fear it generated—as a teachable moment.

Shin’s guards in the camp were his teachers—and his breeders. They had selected his mother and father. They taught him that prisoners who break camp rules deserve death. On a hillside near his school, a slogan was posted: ALL ACCORDING TO THE RULES AND REGULATIONS. The boy memorized the camp’s ten rules, “The Ten Commandments,” as he later called them, and can still recite them by heart. The first one stated: “Anyone caught escaping will be shot immediately.”

Ten years after that first execution, Shin returned to the same field. Again, guards had rounded up a big crowd. Again, a wooden pole had been pounded in the ground. A makeshift gallows had also been built.

Shin arrived this time in the backseat of a car driven by a guard. He wore handcuffs and a blindfold fashioned from a rag. His father, also handcuffed and blindfolded, sat beside him in the car.

They had been released from eight months in an underground prison inside Camp 14. As a condition of their release, they had signed documents promising never to discuss what had happened to them underground.

In that prison within a prison, guards tried to torture a confession out of Shin and his father. They wanted to know about the failed escape of Shin’s mother and only brother. Guards stripped Shin, tied ropes to his ankles and wrists, and suspended him from a hook in the ceiling. They lowered him over a fire. He passed out when his flesh began to burn.

But he confessed nothing. He had nothing to confess. He had not conspired with his mother and brother to escape. He believed what guards had taught him since his birth inside the camp: He could never escape and he must inform on anyone who talks about trying. Not even in his dreams had Shin fantasized about life on the outside.

Guards never taught him what every North Korean schoolboy learns: Americans are “bastards” scheming to invade and humiliate the homeland. South Korea is the “bitch” of its American master. North Korea is a great country whose brave and brilliant leaders are the envy of the world. Indeed, he knew nothing of the existence of South Korea, China, or the United States.

Unlike his countrymen, he did not grow up with the ubiquitous photograph of his Dear Leader, as Kim Jong Il was called. Nor had he seen photographs or statues of Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader who founded North Korea and who remains the country’s Eternal President, despite his death in 1994.

Although he had not been important enough for brainwashing, Shin had been schooled to inform on his family and on his classmates. He won food as a reward and joined guards in beating up children he betrayed. His classmates, in turn, tattled on him and beat him up.

When a guard removed his blindfold, when he saw the crowd, the wooden pole, and the gallows, Shin believed he was about to be executed.

No pebbles, though, were forced into his mouth. His handcuffs were removed. A guard led him to the front of the crowd. He and his father would be spectators.

Guards dragged a middle-aged woman to the gallows and tied a young man to the wooden pole. They were Shin’s mother and his older brother.

A guard tightened a noose around his mother’s neck. She tried to catch his eye. He looked away. After she stopped twitching at the end of the rope, Shin’s brother was shot by three guards. Each fired three times.

As he watched them die, Shin was relieved it was not him. He was angry with his mother and brother for planning an escape. Although he would not admit it to anyone for fifteen years, he knew he was responsible for their executions.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION

NEVER HEARD
THE WORD “LOVE”

Nine years after his mother’s hanging, Shin squirmed through an electric fence and ran off through the snow. It was January 2, 2005. Before then, no one born in a North Korean political prison camp had ever escaped. As far as can be determined, Shin is still the only one to do it.

He was twenty-three years old and knew no one outside the fence.

Within a month, he had walked into China. Within two years, he was living in South Korea. Four years later, he was living in Southern California and was a senior ambassador at Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an American human rights group.

In California, he rode his bike to work, followed the Cleveland Indians (because of their South Korean slugger, Shin-Soo Choo), and ate two or three times a week at In-N-Out Burger, which he viewed as the world’s finest burger.

His name is now Shin Dong-hyuk.* He changed it after arriving in South Korea, an attempt to reinvent himself as a free man. He is handsome, with quick, wary eyes. A Los Angeles dentist has done work on his teeth, which he could not brush in the camp. His overall physical health is excellent. His body, though, is a road map of the hardships of growing up in a labor camp that the North Korean government insists does not exist.

Stunted by malnutrition, he is short and slight—five feet six inches, about one hundred and twenty pounds. His arms are bowed from childhood labor. His lower back and buttocks are scarred with burns from the torturer’s fire. The skin over his pubis bears a puncture scar from the hook used to hold him in place over the fire. His ankles are scarred by shackles, from which he was hung upside down in solitary confinement. His right middle finger is cut off at the first knuckle, a guard’s punishment for dropping a sewing machine in a camp garment factory. His shins, from ankle to knee on both legs, are mutilated and scarred by burns from the electrified barbed-wire fence that failed to keep him inside Camp 14.

Shin is roughly the same age as Kim Jong Eun, the chubby third son of Kim Jong Il who took over as leader after his father’s death in 2011. As contemporaries, Shin and Kim Jong Eun personify the antipodes of privilege and privation in North Korea, a nominally classless society where, in fact, breeding and bloodlines decide everything.

Kim Jong Eun was born a communist prince and raised behind palace walls. He was educated under an assumed name in Switzerland and returned to North Korea to study in an elite university named after his grandfather. Because of his parentage, he lives above the law. For him, everything is possible. In 2010, he was named a four-star general in the Korean People’s Army despite a total lack of field experience in the military. A year later, after his father died of a sudden heart attack, state media in North Korea described him as “another leader sent from heaven.” He may, however, be forced to share his earthly dictatorship with relatives and military leaders.

Shin was born a slave and raised behind a high-voltage barbed-wire fence. He was educated in a camp school to read and count at a rudimentary level. Because his blood was tainted by the perceived crimes of his father’s brothers, he lived below the law. For him, nothing was possible. His state-prescribed career trajectory was hard labor and an early death from disease brought on by chronic hunger—all without a charge or a trial or an appeal, and all in secrecy.

In stories of concentration camp survival, there is a conventional narrative arc. Security forces steal the protagonist away from a loving family and a comfortable home. To survive, he abandons moral principles, suppresses feelings for others, and ceases to be a civilized human being.

In perhaps the most celebrated of these stories, Night, by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, the thirteen-year-old narrator explains his torment with an account of the normal life that existed before he and his family were packed aboard trains bound for Nazi death camps. Wiesel studied the Talmud daily. His father owned a store and watched over their village in Romania. His grandfather was always present to celebrate the Jewish holidays. But after the boy’s entire family perished in the camps, Wiesel was left “alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

Shin’s story of survival is different.

His mother beat him, and he viewed her as a competitor for food. His father, who was allowed by guards to sleep with his mother just five nights a year, ignored him. His brother was a stranger. Children in the camp were untrustworthy and abusive. Before he learned anything else, Shin learned to survive by snitching on all of them.

Love and mercy and family were words without meaning. God did not disappear or die. Shin had never heard of him.

In a preface to Night, Wiesel wrote that an adolescent’s knowledge of death and evil “should be limited to what one discovers in literature.”

In Camp 14, Shin did not know literature existed. He saw only one book in the camp, a Korean grammar, in the hands of a teacher who wore a guard’s uniform, carried a revolver on his hip, and beat one of his primary school classmates to death with a chalkboard pointer.

Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home.

North Korea’s labor camps have now existed twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and about twelve times longer than the Nazi concentration camps. There is no dispute about where these camps are. High-resolution satellite photographs, accessible on Google Earth to anyone with an Internet connection, show vast fenced compounds sprawling through the rugged mountains of North Korea.

The South Korean government estimates there are about one hundred fifty-four thousand prisoners in the camps, while the U.S. State Department and several human rights groups have put the number as high as two hundred thousand. After examining a decade of satellite images of the camps, Amnesty International noticed new construction inside the camps in 2011 and became concerned that the inmate population was increasing, perhaps to short-circuit possible unrest as power began to shift from Kim Jong Il to his young and untried son.1

There are six camps, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency and human rights groups. The biggest is thirty-one miles long and twenty-five miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. Electrified barbed-wire fences—punctuated by guard towers and patrolled by armed men—encircle most of the camps. Two of them, numbers 15 and 18, have reeducation zones where some fortunate detainees receive remedial instruction in the teachings of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. If prisoners memorize enough of these teachings and convince guards they are loyal, they can be released, but they are monitored for the rest of their lives by state security.

The remaining camps are “complete control districts” where prisoners, who are called “irredeemables,”2 are worked to death.

Shin’s camp, number 14, is a complete control district. By reputation it is the toughest of them all because of its particularly brutal working conditions, the vigilance of its guards, and the state’s unforgiving view of the seriousness of the crimes committed by its inmates, many of whom are purged officials from the ruling party, the government, and the military, along with their families. Established in 1959 in central North Korea—Kaechon, South Pyongan Province—Camp 14 holds an estimated fifteen thousand prisoners. About thirty miles long and fifteen miles wide, it has farms, mines, and factories threaded through steep mountain valleys.

Although Shin is the only one born in a labor camp to escape to tell his story, there are at least twenty-six other eyewitnesses from the labor camps now in the free world.3 They include at least fifteen North Koreans who were imprisoned in Camp 15’s edification district, won their release, and later turned up in South Korea. Former guards from other camps have also found their way to South Korea. Kim Yong, a former North Korean lieutenant colonel from a privileged background in Pyongyang, spent six years in two camps before escaping in a coal train.

A distillation of their testimony by the Korean Bar Association in Seoul paints a detailed picture of daily life in the camps. A few prisoners are publicly executed every year. Others are beaten to death or secretly murdered by guards, who have almost complete license to abuse and rape prisoners. Most prisoners tend crops, mine coal, sew military uniforms, or make cement while subsisting on a near-starvation diet of corn, cabbage, and salt. They lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken, and, as they enter their forties, they hunch over at the waist. Issued a set of clothes once or twice a year, they commonly work and sleep in filthy rags, living without soap, socks, gloves, underclothes, or toilet paper. Twelve- to fifteen-hour workdays are mandatory until prisoners die, usually of malnutrition-related illnesses, before they turn fifty.4 Although precise numbers are impossible to obtain, Western governments and human rights groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of people have perished in these camps.

Most North Koreans are sent to the camps without any judicial process, and many die there without learning the charges against them. They are taken from their homes, usually at night, by the Bowibu, the National Security Agency. Guilt by association is legal in North Korea. A wrongdoer is often imprisoned with his parents and children. Kim Il Sung laid down the law in 1972: “[E]nemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations.”

My first encounter with Shin was at lunch in the winter of 2008. We met in a Korean restaurant in downtown Seoul. Talkative and hungry, he wolfed down several helpings of rice and beef. As he ate, he told my translator and me what it was like to watch as his mother was hanged. He blamed her for his torture in the camp, and he went out of his way to say that he was still furious with her. He said he had not been a “good son,” but would not explain why.

During his years in the camp he said he had never once heard the word “love,” certainly not from his mother, a woman he continued to despise, even in death. He had heard about the concept of forgiveness in a South Korean church. But it confused him. To ask for forgiveness in Camp 14, he said, was “to beg not to be punished.”

He had written a memoir about the camp, but it had received little attention in South Korea. He was jobless, broke, behind on his rent, and uncertain what to do next. The rules of Camp 14 had prevented him, on pain of execution, from having intimate contact with a woman. He now wanted to find a proper girlfriend, but said he didn’t know how to begin looking for one.

After lunch, he took me to the small, sad apartment in Seoul that he could not afford. Although he would not look me in the eye, he showed me his chopped-off finger and his scarred back. He allowed me to take his photograph. For all the hardship he had endured he had a baby face. He was twenty-six years old—three years out of Camp 14.

I was fifty-six years old at that memorable lunch. As a correspondent for the Washington Post in Northeast Asia, I had been searching for more than a year for a story that could explain how North Korea used repression to keep from falling apart.

Political implosion had become my specialty. For the Post and for the New York Times, I spent nearly three decades covering failed states in Africa, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the slow-motion rot in Burma under the generals. From the outside looking in, North Korea seemed ripe—indeed, overripe—for the kind of collapse I had witnessed elsewhere. In a part of the world where nearly everyone else was getting rich, its people were increasingly isolated, poor, and hungry.

Still, the Kim family dynasty kept the lid on. Totalitarian repression preserved their basket case state.

My problem in showing how the government did it was lack of access. Elsewhere in the world, repressive states were not always successful in sealing their borders. I had been able to work openly in Mengistu’s Ethiopia, Mobutu’s Congo, and Milosevic’s Serbia, and had slipped in as a tourist to write about Burma.

North Korea was much more careful. Foreign reporters, especially Americans, were rarely allowed inside. I visited North Korea only once, saw what my minders wanted me to see, and learned little. If journalists entered illegally, they risked months or years of imprisonment as spies. To win release, they sometimes needed the help of a former American president.5

Given these restrictions, most reporting about North Korea was distant and hollow. Written from Seoul or Tokyo or Beijing, stories began with an account of Pyongyang’s latest provocation, such as sinking a ship or shooting a tourist. Then the dreary conventions of journalism kicked in: American and South Korean officials expressed outrage. Chinese officials called for restraint. Think tank experts opined about what it might mean. I wrote more than my share of these pieces.

Shin, though, shattered these conventions. His life unlocked the door, allowing outsiders to see how the Kim family sustained itself with child slavery and murder. A few days after we met, Shin’s appealing picture and appalling story ran prominently on the front page of the Washington Post.

“Wow,” wrote Donald G. Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company, in a one-word e-mail I received the morning after the story appeared. A German filmmaker, who happened to be visiting Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum on the day the story was published, decided to make a documentary about Shin’s life. The Washington Post ran an editorial saying that the brutality Shin endured was horrifying, but just as horrifying was the world’s indifference to the existence of North Korea’s labor camps.

“High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t bomb the rail lines to Hitler’s camps,” the editorial concluded. “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.”

Shin’s story seemed to get under the skin of ordinary readers. They wrote letters and sent e-mails, offering money, housing, and prayers.

A married couple in Columbus, Ohio, saw the article, located Shin, and paid for him to travel to the United States. Lowell and Linda Dye told Shin they wanted to be the parents he never had.

A young Korean American woman in Seattle, Harim Lee, read the story and prayed that she would meet Shin. She later sought him out in Southern California and they fell in love.

My article had only skimmed the surface of Shin’s life. It struck me that a deeper account would unveil the secret machinery that enforces totalitarian rule in North Korea. It would also show—through the details of Shin’s improbable flight—how some of that oppressive machinery is breaking down, allowing an unworldly young escapee to wander undetected across a police state and cross into China. As important, no one who read a book about a boy bred by North Korea to be worked to death could ever ignore the existence of the camps.

I asked Shin if he was interested. It took him nine months to make up his mind. During those months, human rights activists in South Korea, Japan, and the United States urged him to cooperate, telling him that a book in English would raise world awareness, increase international pressure on North Korea, and perhaps put some much needed money in his pocket. After Shin said yes, he made himself available for seven rounds of interviews, first in Seoul, then in Torrance, California, and finally in Seattle, Washington. Shin and I agreed to a fifty-fifty split of whatever it might earn. Our agreement, though, gave me control over the contents.

Shin began keeping a diary in early 2006, about a year after his escape from North Korea. In Seoul, after he was hospitalized for depression, he continued writing in it. The diary became the basis for his Korean-language memoir, Escape to the Outside World, which was published in Seoul in 2007 by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights.

The memoir was a starting point for our interviews. It was also the source for many of the direct quotations that are attributed in this book to Shin, his family, friends, and prison keepers during the time he was in North Korea and China. But every thought and action attributed to Shin in these pages is based on multiple interviews with him, during which he expanded upon and, in many crucial instances, corrected his Korean memoir.

Even as he cooperated, Shin seemed to dread talking to me. I often felt like a dentist drilling without anesthetics. The drilling went on intermittently for more than two years. Some of our sessions were cathartic for him; many others made him depressed.

He struggled to trust me. As he readily admits, he struggles to trust anyone. It is an inescapable part of how he was raised. Guards taught him to sell out his parents and friends, and he assumes everyone he meets will sell him out in turn.

In writing this book, I have sometimes struggled to trust him. He misled me in our first interview about his role in the death of his mother, and he continued to do so in more than a dozen interviews. When he changed his story, I became worried about what else he might have made up.

Fact-checking is not possible in North Korea. Outsiders have not visited its political prison camps. Accounts of what goes on inside them cannot be independently verified. Although satellite images have greatly added to outside understanding of the camps, defectors remain the primary sources of information, and their motives and credibility are not spotless. In South Korea and elsewhere, they are often desperate to make a living, willing to confirm the preconceptions of human rights activists, anticommunist missionaries, and right-wing ideologues. Some camp survivors refuse to talk unless they are paid cash upfront. Others repeated juicy anecdotes they had heard but not personally witnessed.

While Shin remained wary of me, he responded to every question about his past that I could think of. His life can seem incredible, but it echoes the experiences of other former prisoners in the camps, as well as the accounts of former camp guards.

“Everything Shin has said is consistent with what I have heard about the camps,” said David Hawk, a human rights specialist who has interviewed Shin and more than two dozen other former labor camp prisoners for “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps,” a report that links survivor accounts with annotated satellite images. It was first published in 2003 by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and has been updated as more testimony and higher-resolution satellite images became available. Hawk told me that because Shin was born and raised in a camp, he knows things that other camp survivors do not. Shin’s story has also been vetted by the authors of the Korean Bar Association’s “White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2008.” They conducted extensive interviews with Shin, as well as with other known camp survivors willing to talk. As Hawk has written, the only way for North Korea to “refute, contradict, or invalidate” the testimony of Shin and other camp survivors would be to permit outside experts to visit the camps. Otherwise, Hawk declares, their testimony stands.

If North Korea does collapse, Shin may be correct in predicting that its leaders, fearing war crimes trials, will demolish the camps before investigators can get to them. As Kim Jong Il explained, “We must envelope our environment in a dense fog to prevent our enemies from learning anything about us.”6

To try to piece together what I could not see, I spent the better part of three years reporting about North Korea’s military, leadership, economy, food shortages, and human rights abuses. I interviewed scores of North Korean defectors, including three former inmates of Camp 15 and a former camp guard and driver who worked at four labor camps. I spoke to South Korean scholars and technocrats who travel regularly inside North Korea, and I reviewed the growing body of scholarly research on and personal memoirs about the camps. In the United States, I conducted extended interviews with Korean Americans who have become Shin’s closest friends.

In assessing Shin’s story, one should keep in mind that many others in the camps have endured similar or worse hardships, according to An Myeong Chul, a former camp guard and driver. “Shin had a relatively comfortable life by the standards of other children in the camps,” An said.

By exploding nuclear bombs, attacking South Korea, and cultivating a reputation for hair-trigger belligerence, the government of North Korea has stirred up a semipermanent security emergency on the Korean Peninsula.

When North Korea deigns to enter into international diplomacy, it has always succeeded in shoving human rights off any negotiating table. Crisis management, usually focused on nuclear weapons and missiles, has dominated American dealings with the North.

The labor camps have been an afterthought.

“Talking to them about the camps is something that has not been possible,” David Straub, who worked in the State Department during the Clinton and Bush years as a senior official responsible for North Korea policy, told me. “They go nuts when you talk about it.”

The camps have barely pricked the world’s collective conscience. In the United States, newspaper stories notwithstanding, ignorance of their existence remains widespread. For several years in Washington, a handful of North Korean defectors and camp survivors gathered each spring on the Mall for speeches and marches. The Washington press corps paid little attention. Part of the reason was language. Most of the defectors spoke only Korean. As important, in a media culture that feeds on celebrity, no movie star, no pop idol, no Nobel Prize winner stepped forward to demand that outsiders invest emotionally in a distant issue that lacks good video.

“Tibetans have the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere, Burmese have Aung San Suu Kyi, Darfurians have Mia Farrow and George Clooney,” Suzanne Scholte, a long-time activist who brought camp survivors to Washington, told me. “North Koreans have no one like that.”

Shin told me he does not deserve to speak for the tens of thousands still in the camps. He is ashamed of what he did to survive and escape. He has resisted learning English, in part because he does not want to have to tell his story again and again in a language that might make him important. But he desperately wants the world to understand what North Korea has tried so diligently to hide. His burden is a heavy one. No one else born and raised in the camps has escaped to explain what went on inside—what still goes on inside.

* North Korean names are not hyphenated; South Korean names are.

CHAPTER 1

THE BOY WHO ATE
HIS MOTHER’S LUNCH

Shin and his mother lived in the best prisoner quarters Camp 14 had to offer: a “model village” next to an orchard and just across from the field where his mother was later hanged.

Each of the forty, one-story buildings in the village housed four families. Shin and his mother had their own room, where they slept side by side on a concrete floor. The four families shared a common kitchen, which had a single bare lightbulb. Electricity ran two hours a day, from four to five in the morning and ten to eleven at night. Windows were made of gray vinyl, too opaque to see through. Rooms were heated—in the Korean way—by a coal fire in the kitchen with flues running under the bedroom floor. The camp had its own coal mines and coal for heating was readily available.

There were no beds, chairs, or tables. There was no running water. No bath or shower. Prisoners who wanted to bathe sometimes sneaked down to the river in the summer. About thirty families shared a well for drinking water. They also shared a privy, which was divided in half for men and women. Defecating and urinating there were mandatory, as human waste was used as fertilizer on the camp farm.

If Shin’s mother met her daily work quota, she could bring home food for that night and the following day. At four in the morning, she would prepare breakfast and lunch for her son and for herself. Every meal was the same: corn porridge, pickled cabbage, and cabbage soup. Shin ate this meal nearly every day for twenty-three years, unless he was denied food as punishment.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 267 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(160)

4 Star

(64)

3 Star

(20)

2 Star

(10)

1 Star

(13)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 267 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!

    30 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    7 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 267 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)