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Escape from Camp 14: One man's remarkable odyssey from North Korea to freedom in the West Hardcover – 29 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mantle; Main Market Ed. edition (29 Mar. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230748732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230748736
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (349 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Blaine Harden is an American author and journalist.

His most recent book is Escape From Camp 14, on sale March 29 in the United Kingdom. It's the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person to have been born and raised in a North Korean prison camp -- and to have escaped to the West.

"If you have a soul, you will be changed forever by Blaine Harden's Escape from Camp 14," writes Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La.

BBC Radio 4 has selected Escape from Camp 14 as a "Book of the Week" and selections from it will be read on the air. Foreign Policy named it as one of 21 books that will matter in 2012.

In an early review, Publisher's Weekly said the book "reads like a dystopian thriller."

Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, writes: "More so than any other book on North Korea, including my own, Escape from Camp 14 exposes the cruelty that is the underpinning of the North Korean regime."

And Suzanne Scholte, a Seoul Peace Prize Laureate, says: ""A beautifully written account of a horrible place, Escape from Camp 14 is both a shocking expose of North Korea's political prison camps as well as a testament to the human spirit's ability to dream and hope even in the darkest hell."

Harden is also the author of A River Lost. It's about well-intentioned Americans (including the author's father) who dammed and degraded the West's greatest river, the Columbia. The New York Times called it a "hard-nosed, tough-minded, clear-eyed dispatch on the sort of contentious subject that is almost always distorted by ideology or obscured by a fog of sentiment." An updated and revised edition of A River Lost will be published by Norton in the spring of 2012 to coincide with a PBS American Experience program about Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia River.

Blaine's first book, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, was described by The Independent (London) as the "best contemporary book on Africa."

Blaine now reports for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. He worked for The Washington Post in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the NY Times Magazine.

He lives in Seattle with his wife Jessica and their two children, Lucinda and Arno.

Product Description


‘This is a story unlike any other because Shin is one of the few, if not only, long-term prisoners to have escaped from the North Korean gulag. It is most harrowing not only because it is true, but because the conditions it describes persist to 2011 in North Korea, where a vast gulag is home to hundreds of thousands of slave laborers, including children bred in captivity, like Shin. 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. Harden doesn’t flinch from the darker side of the story. He takes straight-on questions about Shin’s credibility and explains methodically how he went about corroborating his story. He doesn’t try to make Shin – a difficult and damaged person – more likeable. The integrity of this book, shines through on every page’ Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

‘Harrowing . . . Harden’s account of Shin’s extraordinary, perilous journey through North Korea and into China (which has a history of sending asylum seekers back to North Korea) and later to South Korea is gripping stuff . . . bearing witness will be Shin’s legacy’ Daily Mail

‘Harden sheds light on the horrors of North Korea, with a gripping account of the story of Shin In Geun’ Financial Times - Favourite Books of 2012

'Until recently, full accounts of life in this famine-riven dystopia were hard to come by. Then a couple of years ago, Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy provided excoriating testimonies of refugees who had managed to escape into China and then on to South Korea. The picture those witnesses drew of North Korea was of one vast and brutal gulag. Now comes Escape From Camp 14, a still more harrowing account of the gulag within the gulag, the huge prison camps that litter the more remote provinces of this benighted country. Written by Blaine Harden, an experienced American journalist, it tells the extraordinary story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person born in the gulag to have escaped’ Guardian

‘Harden knows a lot about North Korea and he wears his knowledge lightly . . . 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

‘Harrowing story of a young man’s flight from one of the slave labor camps where as many as 200,000 political unreliables — a category that includes not just those who run afoul of authority but their relatives for three generations — are sent to be starved, tortured and ultimately worked to death. Harden’s story of Shin Dong-hyuk differs from the best previous refugee narratives — “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” by Kang Chol-hwan, Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy” — because Shin was in every sense a product of Camp 14. Born in captivity to a pair of inmates picked by camp commanders for a loveless bit of procreation, Shin grew up with no awareness of anything beyond the electrified fences. He is like the boy-narrator of Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room,” whose entire world is the backyard shed where he and his kidnapped mother are held captive. Except that the boy in “Room” knows love. Harden’s book, besides being a gripping story, unsparingly told, carries a freight of intelligence about this black hole of a country’ New York Times

‘A skilfully researched piece of book-length journalism uncluttered, as far as seems reasonable, with emotion. It is old now, the saying that for evil to exist, good men must do nothing. And that is what you take away, more than anything, from Harden's book. More than why the crimes against humanity are happening in the first place, more than whose responsibility it is to stop them, the question is why — for the sake not of politics but of mankind — is nobody in power doing anything about it?’ Spectator

‘Shin’s existence in the camp and his escape to the unknown world beyond its fences is the remarkable and harrowing tale that former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden recounts in spare, unadorned prose in Escape From Camp 14 . . . 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’ Washington Post

Book Description

Introducing the incredible story of Shin Dong-hyuk - the only person born in a North Korean gulag ever to escape . . . --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 84 people found the following review helpful By CJ Craig VINE VOICE on 10 Mar. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've read most of the recent books about North Korea; both those by scholars and those by escapees. This one, written by a journalist, Blaine Harden, is excellent. It brings to life the terrible reality of life in one of North Korea's many Gulags that exist today. And, what is even more shocking, it reveals the life of a young man actually born inside the Gulag who lived the first twenty-six years within a prison. His story makes compelling reading if only because it is a modern-day horror story the world seems unwilling to hear. After sixty years of this totally repressive regime North Korea is now home to several generations of starving, psychologically maladjusted and physically weakened people. Is it any wonder that neither South Korea nor China wants the regime to collapse? The few that have escaped to South Korea and who remain there or move on to another country, such as the United States are totally unprepared to live in our contemporary world and find the adjustment process extremely difficult. Surely this tale of a young man who has endured what few of us can even begin to imagine will urge our politicians that much more must be done to deal with this tragic country. The damage done to the North Koreans is almost worse than anywhere else on earth simply because the situation is so unknown by the outside world. Why do so few care about North Korea? Why is there no urgency in our petitions to politicians and NGOs over the on-going situation in North Korea? I can only hope that more and more people will read this book and be moved to do something to address this terrible situation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sam Woodward TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
This review is based upon an advance proof copy. It came with a letter from the publisher stating that it was "written before the [North Korean] succession crisis & has not been updated. The book published on 29th March will have been updated by the author."

The letter also says that "this is possibly the most extraordinary story of one mans' life you will ever read." It certainly represents a staggering achievement - Shin Dong-hyuk was bred in a North Korean prison camp & yet knowing no other world, was miraculously able to escape to Seoul & tell the tale. I say he was 'bred' because his parents were brought together in an authorised coupling by prison guards, as a reward for hard work & loyalty. This rare practice (only open to model inmates in their mid-20's or older) meant they could initially spend 5 nights together & then another 5 nights spread throughout the year. The alternatives were strictly forbidden - camp rules state that "should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval, the perpetrators will be shot immediately". Thus Shin was raised in the camp - his only crime was simply to be born to the wrong parents, as Kim Il-Sung had decreed that if one parent went bad, the next two generations must be 'purified' as well.

This is just one example of the astonishing levels of oppression which the prisoners of Camp 14 endure. While many earlier books on North Korea (such as Barbara Demick's highly recommended Nothing to Envy) paint a chilling portrait of life for ordinary citizens in this police state, Shin's story is even worse.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Shanley VINE VOICE on 15 Mar. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Escape From Camp 14:One Man's Remarkable Oyssey from North Korea To Freedom In The West" is a harrowing real life
story about the "life" of Shin Dong-Hyuak,born in a North Korean prison camp and to say life,there is inhuman is a gross understatment.

The author,Blaine Harden is very honest,this isn't escape,then life is wonderful type of book,Harden is honest that Shin had struggled with freedom since escaping to the West but when one reads about a life of beatings,murders,rape and "snitching" to survive or to gain extra food,to prevent starvation,life where people are treated like human beings,must be like an alien world to Shin.

I found myself feeling ashamed that North Korea,is really only talked about in the West,when they do a nuclear test or some other type of saber waving,the really depressing thing is human rights are still being abused there,at this moment in time.

The one thing I hope more than anything is that Shin's story helps increase the pressure,on North Korea,to radically improve their human rights,or,at the very least,to give them even more bad press coverage in the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By superblues on 10 July 2012
Format: Hardcover
There aren't very many news stories or articles about North Korea, which is considered to be one of the most isolated and restricted countries in the world. It is the first time that I have ever read the memoir of the former North Korean refugee.

Shin was born in the labour camp 14. It is so sad to read that an extremely innocent child was forced to live in the brutal and inhospitable environment where he didn't hear the word of `love' or `sympathy', and he was never celebrated his birthday until he managed to escape to South Korea. Having been brought up in the prisoners' camp, he rarely saw his parents and brother. He was given the education, but he was only given the rudimentary level of education which enabled him to follow the instructions of work. Raising questions or disobeying the teacher did not only get him into trouble but would be liable to be given very harsh punishment or if unlucky, he would be shot immediately. He was forced to do hard labour in the very appealing conditions from the young age and saw a number of fellow pupils or workers died.

The memoir produced by Blaine Harden is very honest and constructive, and it gives the evidence of the brutal school and work environments Shin experienced, how he would have thought of his mother and brother being executed when he was 13, and the way his life and thought would have changed after meeting of less strenuous teacher and Park who told him the life of outside the labour camp and outside of North Korea. Having done scrupulous and through research, he reveals the detailed account of history and politics and discovers the very notorious actions of transferring collections of disaster funds to the North Korea Community Party, which have been happening since 1980s.
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