- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Viking; Book Club Edition edition (March 29 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780670023325
- ISBN-13: 978-0670023325
- ASIN: 0670023329
- Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.1 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Average Customer Review: 61 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #121,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West Hardcover – Mar 29 2012
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"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'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.See all Product description
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Aside from calling this the absolute must read book that it is, it’s hard to find anything else specific to say. It’s a thorough account (or as thorough as can be, as explained in the Forward) of the life of a man born and raised in one of the most awful places on this planet. It’s simply not possible for us to truly understand what it was like for him, or what it’s like for the thousands still there, as it’s so far removed from everything known in most parts of the world. Even those living in abject poverty are still better off than what is described here. Being treated as less than human is one thing; being born and raised that way, knowing nothing else, is quite another.
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). But rather because it shows both how savage people can be when they are put in the right environment and how hope and good will can still exist in those same environments. It's really fascinating to me to point out how powerful the environment can be in influencing behavior (think of the Milgram or Stanford prison studies). It is equally fascinating how a child can grow up in such a horrible environment and yet still retain a kernel of individual resiliency that offers the potential for a happier and more loving life upon escaping from that environment. It left me with a profound sense of how lucky I am to have been raised in a loving home in Canada.
So this is not just an amazing story that will inform people about an evil reality that exists for thousands of North Koreans. It's not even just an important call for action against those conditions. This book contains a deep lesson on the nature of humanity- its frailties and its resiliencies. Which makes it an excellent read and worthy of five stars.
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. There is a really useful bibliography at the back for further reading. This is also an extremely accessible book and one which I found hard to not want to know more.
It is split into three parts and the third dealing with trying to adapt to life as a free man and in many ways that is as hard as the actual escape for reasons that were a surprise to me. Blaine Harden has done extensive research for this and tried to keep as much of himself out of the book as possible, but that was always going to be difficult. Whilst I was totally absorbed with this book it was because of the story and not necessarily the writing, so even though I can highly recommend it is just not quite the five stars. Anyone interested in Korean history ought to read this at least once and I doubt even with fore knowledge of that regime that you will not be moved by Shin's story.
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