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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

4.5 out of 5 stars 438 customer reviews

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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 (438 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

‘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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anne TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 July 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I didn't know very much about North Korea before I read this book and, of course, I don't know a whole lot more now but I this story has enlightened me to some of the activities this repressive regime. This is the story of Shin who was born and brought up in the camp to which both his parents had been sent - it is a biography and the details here are reputed to be accurate and the author has made every attempt to try and make sure that they are. If you have read any factual books set in concentration camps during World War II or in the Soviet Union you will recognise a lot of what is described.

Shin grows up in the camp and labours along with others, both adult and children. He is subjected to the whims and arbitrary rules of the guards who create an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. He sees both his mother and brother executed, is tortured himself, lives on starvation rations and witnesses many acts of atrocity. Through a set of circumstances he develops the ability to escape, which he does, although not without casualty. The most eye opening part of the book for me was not the time in the camp but the description of the adjustments that Shin had to make to fit in with “normal” life – I hadn’t really grasped this before as most books about this sort of escape assume that everyone lives happily in the glorious free world.

This is a difficult subject matter but told in an accessible way. The author doesn't shy away from the worst that Shin has to tell and the story is conveyed in a way that is informative and touching rather than over-dwelling on the hardship and misery. In the end we are unsure of how Shin will face his future or what it will hold for him and we are always aware of the hundreds and thousands of other people still living in the camps.
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I'm glad I read this book. Disturbing and dramatic in equal measure.
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Oveall OK
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Fantastic book
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I really enjoyed reading this, but shortly after completing it the main protagonist came out and confessed that he had never even been in the camp for the bulk of the 'story' and that key events had either happened elsewhere, not as originally described, or not at all. I felt as though I'd been cheated after reading about his latest confession, and although I'm very interested to read more on the subject of North Korea it has to some extent dissuaded me from purchasing other books on the topic.
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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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Horrific story of life in a N Korean 'gulag': the prisoner in question was not even a 'criminal' but had been born there, his parents in a kind of arranged marriage as a reward for good conduct.
Reporter Blaine Harden relates the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, the only escapee from a N Korean political prison camp. Cold, starvation, slave labour and torture and hangings were a part of life. And co-operating with the authorities by snitching on fellow inmates was the only way to survive.
The reader's heart is in his mouth as Shin makes his successful break for freedom...just. But finally reaching the West, he must come to terms with a very different life, and the psychological trauma wrought on him by years of inhumanity.
Very readable work, but utterly shocking.
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Factual and harrowing...Hard to imagine this is still going on. Scenes I won't forget. Worth a read. I would have preferred to have heard more of the escapees voice than the authors.
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