Escape from Camp 14 One man's remarkable odyssey from North Korea to freedom in the West

Blaine Harden

Book - 2012

Twenty-six years ago, Shin Dong-hyuk was born inside Camp 14, one of five sprawling political prisons in the mountains of North Korea. This is the gripping, terrifying story of his escape from this no-exit prison-- to freedom in South Korea.

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2nd Floor 951.93/Harden Due Oct 2, 2022
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New York : Viking 2012.
Physical Description
xvi, 205 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. 201-205).
Main Author
Blaine Harden (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

There are some people in this world who remain unaware of the repressive regime of the late Kim Jong Il. They have never heard of him, Pyongyang, South Korea, or freedom. They are North Koreans, specifically those unfortunate ones born in—and confined to—labor camps. Harden tells the harrowing story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man born in the notorious Camp 14. Shin's parents were given to each other as a reward for good work, and he rarely saw them because familial bonds were discouraged. Shin lived in barracks, working from a young age in labor that killed many. Everyone was encouraged to snitch on each other, a policy so ingrained that Shin snitched on his mother, resulting in her public execution. In his early twenties, Shin became the first person to escape a North Korean labor camp. Harden details the difficult years that follow: months in rural China, cultural shock in affluent and competitive South Korea, and existential confusion once Shin reaches the U.S. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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 [Page 110]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

With a protagonist born into a life of backbreaking labor, cutthroat rivalries, and a nearly complete absence of human affection, Harden's book reads like a dystopian thriller. But this isn't fiction—it's the biography of Shin Dong-hyuk, 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.) [Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A dramatic account by one of the few survivors born in North Korea's infamous political prison camps describes the brutal conditions that have forced prisoners to turn on one another, his witness to his family's executions and his harrowing escape. By the author of A River Lost. 30,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Twenty-six years ago, Shin Dong-hyuk was born inside Camp 14, one of five sprawling political prisons in the mountains of North Korea. This is the gripping, terrifying story of his escape from this no-exit prison-- to freedom in South Korea.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Presents a dramatic account by one of the few survivors born in North Korea's infamous political prison camps, describing the brutal conditions he was forced to endure as a child, his witnessing of his family's executions, and his final, harrowing escape.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

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. Blaine Harden's latest book, King of Spies, will be available from Viking in Fall 2017.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.