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

Blaine Harden
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 Mar 2012

Now a major documentary film

Twenty-six years ago, Shin Dong-hyuk was born inside Camp 14, one of five sprawling political prisons in the mountains of North Korea. Located about 55 miles north of Pyongyang, the labor camp is a 'complete control district,' a no-exit prison where the only sentence is life.

No one born in Camp 14 or in any North Korean political prison camp has escaped. No one except Shin. This is his story.

A gripping, terrifying memoir with a searing sense of place, ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 will unlock, through Shin, a dark and secret nation, taking readers to a place they have never before been allowed to go.

‘This is a story unlike any other’ Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mantle (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230748732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230748736
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134,570 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

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).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book we all must read 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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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulls No Punches 15 Mar 2012
By Gregory Shanley VINE VOICE
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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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling 27 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I started this book I was completely naive to the realities of life in North Korea. This book is a great escape story but most of all a well researched and verified account of the horrors of being a political prisoner in North Korea. I naively though the world had no concentration camps and that mass imprisonment of children for the perceived sins of their parents was only the stuff of Hitler. It is a compelling and disturbing read that leaves you feeling both guilty and lucky to have been born in a free country. I read this book in three sittings and it splits into 3 clear sections, life in camp14, the escape and adjusting to the world.
Each section is excellently written, it is not sensationalist or gory, just matter of fact, leaving to the readers imagination the extent of the horror. Despite the ordeals the subject suffers, it is a good story that keeps you turning the pages and I did enjoy the journey. I finished the book feeling both saddened and angry that such things happen with our knowledge and we are powerless to intervene.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars shocking insight into North Korea 17 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I felt the story when based on the experiences of the individual was quite shocking to realise this is still going on now and is quite similar to horrors of Nazi and Stalin prison camps. However I don,t feel it was very well written no fault of Shin but the ghost writer. I also felt it was very much put from the point of view of a what I guess would be a very right wing American and I felt it suffered from that. Interesting and thought provoking.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about the triumph of the spirit 14 April 2013
This book is about the extraordinary life of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born and raised inside a camp for political prisoners in the mountains of North Korea. He was serving a life sentence because of the sins of his parents. He did not know what his mother had done to deserve such a sentence, but his father had committed the unforgivable crime of having two brothers who had defected to South Korea. He was brought up a slave in a world where rape, the brutalization and killing of prisoners including children is the norm. He knew nothing about love, friendship or family bonds and his desire to escape was fueled by two short lived friendships with two political prisoners. One he met when he was thirteen the other at the time of his escape. The story also covers his time in China, South Korea and America. This is more than an escape story, it is the tale of the brutalization of a child and his battle to come to terms with his past and his attempt to adapt to the western way of life.
Although the number of North Koreans defecting is growing and our media is reporting more and more about the human rights abuses in the country, Shin Dong-hyuk is thought to be the first person to escape from one of these camps. It is estimated there are two hundred thousand people living as slaves in camps like this in North Korea in unimaginable conditions and this is the only book to my knowledge that covers these camps. On one level this is a book about the worst aspects of human nature, but it is also a book about an emotionally scarred man who is trying to rise above the dehumanization of his childhood to become a caring human being and help others who have been traumatized in North Korea. In that sense, it is a book about the triumph of the spirit.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for those with an interest in the DPRK
Having read Barbara Demick's excellent Nothing to Envy, and having taken in a trip myself to North Korea in recent weeks, I decided to give this book a go. Read more
Published 20 minutes ago by Dan in Germany
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing story
this story is an excellent one it has really touched my heart and i will defiantly no forget it any time soon
Published 2 days ago by Ted Halligan
5.0 out of 5 stars eye opening
loved everything about this. really made me open my eyes to what actually goes on behind closed doors. truly shocking yet great
Published 6 days ago by jack
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into life in North Korea
Not the happiest of subjects, but extremely interesting to see how certain are treated in this closed country. Easy to read.
Published 6 days ago by Lynx
5.0 out of 5 stars Fan-flippin-tastic!!!
Could not put this down. Not only did it give a heartbreaking and emotional account of what it was like being born into a labour camp in communist North Korea. Read more
Published 8 days ago by carly robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable
A remarkable book purchased after hearing about it on Radio 4. Everyone should read this book - it is an absolutely incredible, true story.
Published 10 days ago by Jacky Stockley
5.0 out of 5 stars Escape from Camp 14
An interesting insite into the lives of North Koreans and their appalling lives and living conditions. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Paul B
4.0 out of 5 stars Straight forward and shocking
With sections of shin' s story interlaced with modern historical events in north Korea, this book manages to shock the reader but solely through fact. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Taceylacey
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Read
I knew that things were bad in North Korea but until reading this book I never realised just how bad. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Katie
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Insite
A great In site into the lives that are being lives in north Korea.
Harrowing and sorrowful we will never understand the emotional journey that these people have undertaken as... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Amazon Customer
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