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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable…
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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to… (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Blaine Harden

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8846510,017 (3.92)97
Member:callmecayce
Title:Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
Authors:Blaine Harden
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:read 2012, biography, north korea, library, korea

Work details

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (2012)

  1. 50
    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: Demick's book explores the lives of several people who lived in and escaped from North Korea, while Harden's focuses on one individual who was born in and escaped from a North Korean slave labor camp. The two books complement each other.
  2. 10
    Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick (TomWaitsTables)
  3. 10
    Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: Harden's book describes life within one specific slave labor camp in North Korea, and Applebaum's explores the Soviet Gulag in depth, making use of Soviet archives and prisoners' writings.
  4. 00
    The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Chol-hwan Kang (ecureuil)
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Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Very moving experience to read of this man journeys - physical and psychological. It takes a journalist to provoke and address those thoughts of how real could this story be. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
The only person known to have been born and raised in one of North Korea's prison camps and then escape* (others, brought to them have been released after some years), Shin Dong-hyuk lived more than two decades in North Korea's Camp 14.

Estimates have between 150,00-200,000 people living in North Korea's political prison camps. Isolated, starving, routinely beaten and cut-off even from the rest of their country, those living in these camps know very little (if anything) of the outside world. While most in North Korea are taught of South Korea and the United States' evil, growing up in Camp 14, though, Shin heard none of this. Expected to work long 15 hour days from a young age (10-year-olds worked together to push two-ton coal cars up a hill), prisoners subsisted (just barely) on corn, cabbage and salt.

Beatings were routine - from the guards, from family members, from other prisoners - and life was beyond hard, everyone sold everyone else out.

It would be no wonder that people wanted to escape. But few seemed to dream of it and even fewer try. Those, like Shin, who has always known this life didn't know there was a better world - with more food, something called love and friendship and trust. Not only that, the consequence for escape, attempting it, or even talking about it made it, often too dangerous: death.

Until the idea for escape did form in his mind. And he acted on it.


While the reading level of Escape from Camp 14 is not difficult (especially compared to many nonfiction books), it's the content that makes reading Shin's story hard at times.

Harden admits, quite frequently, that there is not, truly, a way to fact check Shin's story. He can't go to the camp and do interviews, he can't call anyone up and ask them questions, he can't even go into North Korea. While this does make the reader slightly dubious of Shin's story - especially when it's acknowledged that the story has changed in some dramatic places - the tale has been vetted in a way. Other memoirs have been published about people's experiences in the camps (those that were released or former guards) and different groups have led investigations/inquiries. These individuals and groups do contend that Shin's recollections are in line with what happens in the prison camps. He has the physical scars, as well.

Harden's background as a reported and knowledge of the area adds some great extra information to the book. I learned a lot more about not only North Korea and its politics, history, and practices but also about South Korea and China as well (including their relationships with North Korea and its defectors).

While Shin's life and the life of those in Camp 14 was so separate from what was happening elsewhere in North Korea, it was very nice to know what was happening concurrently in the rest of the country.

The book doesn't wait for a nice, neat ending; it shows us how Shin's life is today. How he's adjusting to life, learning about being a regular human being whose life is not completely controlled, under constant threat of violence by prison guards. I wish him well.


Rating: 8/10


*This according to the book, the synopsis on Goodreads makes it sound as if there are others, so if my review is wrong, I apologize. I'm basing it on the text of the book.
  BookSpot | May 18, 2015 |
May or may not be entirely true but enough evidence shows that the camps are horrendous and to fault Shin for anything not 100% true is faulting a abused child for not remembering adult concepts. So whether or not it's 100% accurate, I HIGHLY RECOMMENDED this if you can stand descriptions of inhuman abuse. Blaine Harden does a good job narrating, and I was engrossed in this story. ( )
  marshapetry | Apr 20, 2015 |
Sober reportage from Blaine Harden of the Washington Post, who interviewed the only person born in a North Korean prison camp who has escaped North Korea. The result is not literary, but is instead a blunt and harrowing reading experience. Throughout, Hardin is careful--I loved this about him as a writer--to orient the reader about what evidence, or lack of evidence, is available from other sources to corroborate Shin Dong-hyuk's account of his life in Camp 14. This care, and the story Harkin pieces together, are well worth the time you will need to finish this short, important book. ( )
  poingu | Jan 29, 2015 |
After reading the amazing Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick, I discovered that there are actually quite a lot of accounts from North Korean escapees/defectors. This one sounded particularly interesting since it profiles such a different experience from the ordinary North Koreans followed in Nothing To Envy - the man featured here was born and lived in one of North Korea's notorious labor camps, "Camp 14", and is the only person born in a camp known to have escaped.

It's hard to imagine a life more isolated from the outside world. Even within the closed-off, repressive, and extremely poor country of North Korea the residents of the camps are isolated, utterly controlled, and extremely poor, hardly knowing a world outside of North Korea exists (and thus, ironically, less subject to the propaganda that most North Koreans are fed). Residents, including children, were routinely beaten (sometimes fatally) for minor offenses like stealing a few grains of corn or just because the guards were bored. One of Shin's earliest memories was of watching an execution of people caught trying to escape.

Shin tells the story of his life in the camp, watching his mother and elder brother executed for trying to escape and being tortured for suspected involvement. (He later says that he in fact informed on his relatives, attempting to save his own life, but that the teacher he reported them to did not pass along the source of the information.) Eventually he meets another prisoner, formerly from Pyongyang, whose stories motivate Shin to hatch a plan for escape.

The latter part of the book details the titular escape, from the camp and then from North Korea itself, and Shin's difficult attempts to function in a normal society, when he lacked not only any practical skills for holding a job or living on his own but also basic ability to trust anyone - having never trusted or been trusted, cared about anyone or been cared about, he was extremely paranoid and suffering from PTSD.

There's a reason for my careful choice of language above, of what the book talks about and the stories that Shin tells. Harden mentions that Shin had for a long time not told about his role in his mother's death, and discusses the difficulty of fact-checking anything from inside North Korea and the impossibility of doing so in this case. As I was in the middle of reading this book, I saw an article on NPR saying that Shin had again changed his story, more substantially - that much of his childhood had been spent in a different, less brutal camp, and that he had made an earlier escape attempt and been captured (which was what prompted the torture). I'm not actually surprised by this, and it doesn't change my opinion of the book much - Shin had already changed his story, he had never been taught to value honesty or trust, so why should readers expect this account to be entirely trustworthy? It's a compelling story nonetheless; I'm glad I know where some of the holes are, though. ( )
  lorax | Jan 26, 2015 |
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Blaine Hardenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harden, BlaineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
There 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
Dedication
For North Koreans who remain in the camps
First words
Nine years after his mother's hanging, Shin squirmed through an electric fence and ran off through the snow.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
CONTENTS:

Never heard the word "love" -- The boy who ate his mother's lunch -- School days -- The upper crust -- Mother tries to escape -- Mother tries to escape, version two -- This son of a bitch won't do -- The sun shines even on mouse holes -- Avoiding mother's eyes -- Reactionary son of a bitch -- Working man -- Napping on the farm -- Sewing and snitching -- Deciding not to snitch -- Preparing to run -- The fence -- Stealing -- Riding north -- The border -- China -- Asylum -- K'uredit k'adus -- South Koreans are not so interested -- U.S.A.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670023329, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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