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

Blaine Harden
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 3 2012

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.


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Review

"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

About the Author

Blaine Harden is a reporter for PBS Frontline and a contributor to the Economist, based in Seattle, having completed a tour as the Washington Post's bureau chief in Tokyo. He is the prize-winning, acclaimed author of two books: Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent (Norton, 1990) and A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia (Norton, 1996). --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Tommy Dooley HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, a 26 year old man who was born inside Camp 14. This is a camp that holds political prisoners and as it is a `no exit' camp; all of the sentences are life. Those in the camps have no rights and in many respects have already had a death sentence passed on them, but the timing is less fixed.

Some of the prisoners are allowed `award marriages', all congress of a sexual nature is banned; the penalty for infraction is death. The penalty for most infractions is death actually, or torture, forced starvation, severe beatings and miserable work. Everyone has to work, what ever their physical health and if you fail to meet your work quota then you have your meagre rations cut. Public executions are mandatory attendance and Shins earliest memory is having been at one. He is the product of an `award marriage', and as such him and his brother will be born, live and die in the camp. They too will have to atone for the sins of the parents.

He is taught to trust no one, to snitch on everyone and to be loyal only to the guards. The camps are the only places where photos of `The Dear Leader' are not compulsorily on display at all times - this is to re enforce that they are outside society. Hence their knowledge of the country, politics and even food is parlous to non existent. They are kept separate from the children of prisoners who have been on the outside. In short it is a living hell and then something happens that makes it even worse and is the catalyst for change in Shins pitiful life.

This story has been told by Blaine Harden (Washington Post reporter) after numerous interviews with Shin. He has done a magnificent job or relaying the true story with amazing details and references for cross corroboration where ever possible.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense story of an alternate life April 17 2012
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As someone interested in the human condition on both a personal and an academic level, I find stories of unusual upbringings to be fascinating. This is a story of an unusually horrible upbringing and the light it sheds on both humanity and humans in North Korea is powerfully awful.

Shin Dong-Hyuk was born and raised in a North Korean prison camp. The "product" of a man and woman from traiterous families (NK punishes treason through three generations!!), he grew up in an environment bereft of love, compassion, and hope. Like watching a train wreck on TV, it's a squeemish but fascinating look at how a human can grow up when they are faced with constant starvation, indifference, paranoia, and the threat of very real and serious violence. In many ways, this book reminded me of the Mountain People, an anthropologist's account of a group of starving hunter-gatherers who seemed to have lost all their morals. Life at Camp 14 was just like that. The prisoners and guards (in general) seemed to have lost all their morals.

There are bright spots of hope and kindness that I won't divulge to avoid ruining the story, but generally this is a dark book about bleak topics. It's also a fascinating look into Shin Dong-Hyuk's mind as the report (Harden) tries to coax the truth out of a sometimes uncooperative subject. Not surprisingly, Shin's PTSD and learned way of life make it very difficult for him to open up and share the brutal details of his life. Not just because he had bad things done to him, but because he believes he did some very bad things himself. Which is why this book is so compelling. Not because it shows how brutal life in North Korea is (a fact that should stir more international action than it currently does).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WOW!! April 2 2012
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Story Description:

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 Dong-hyuk 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.

Review:

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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A shocker
It is incredible to realize that this large prison exists in North Korea today. This man suffered more indignities than we in North America could ever imagine. Read more
Published 24 days ago by MLP
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read
'Escape' has helped open my eyes to how, collectively closed our eyes really are.
The horrors that go on in the world that we don't or sometimes refuse to
acknowledge are... Read more
Published 1 month ago by G O'Neill
4.0 out of 5 stars Much wow. Very read.
Very good read. Hard to believe places like this still exist on this planet. Vader is not his father. Wow.
Published 2 months ago by toxygen3
5.0 out of 5 stars AWESOME READ!!
This was a very good read..I really enjoyed this book and at the same time was very sad for what he had to go through. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Wendy Holland
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but harrowing true story
When I finished reading it gave it to a friend who has 2 adopted Korean boys. Kept thinking as I read it that the boys are the luckiest kids to be born in S. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Roberta Little
4.0 out of 5 stars A monstrous world
A fascinating but soul-freezing look into the prison system of NK where generations of families, from babies to the elderly, often suffer and die out. Read more
Published 5 months ago by sander
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish everyone could read this
This book is not for the faint of heart. I purchased it a while ago on a recommendation from a friend because of my curiousity surrounding the horrors taking place in North Korea. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Dannyboy1977
5.0 out of 5 stars Escape from Camp 14
Listening to the news over the last couple of years , concerning North Korea , does not even come close to what this book has done to open my eyes to the atrocities that are... Read more
Published 7 months ago by gerrygreen
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating
WOO, that the adjective I use for this book. Unbelievable that in the 21st century, there is such a country on this earth. Read more
Published 8 months ago by LISE B TURCOTTE
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing
Having always been fascinated by how human beings can treat each other so inhumanely (as in WW2 Jewish Holocaust), I found this book a disturbing read, not just because of what... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Michael T. Ross
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