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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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on 2 March 2017
I'm glad I read this book. Disturbing and dramatic in equal measure.
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on 5 February 2016
Oveall OK
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on 3 April 2017
Fantastic book
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on 20 December 2016
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 February 2012
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. Once he escaped to a nearby town, "it shocked him to see North Koreans going about their daily lives without having to take orders from guards. When they had the temerity to ... wear brightly coloured clothes or haggle over prices in an open-air market, he expected armed men to step in, knock heads, and stop the nonsense." The details of how he was able to get out of the country also indicates the chilling extent of the poverty & deprivation that have blighted North Korea & (luckily for Shin) undermined its regime.

While author Blaine Harden includes other sources to back up many of Shin's claims, most of them are of course unverifiable. Getting any information about this secretive state is a challenge - particularly when it flatly denies the existence of the labour camps, despite them apparently being visible on Google Earth. However, having been brought up surrounded by deceit, Shin claims he is now determined to be as honest as possible. Only he knows the real truth of that but there are certainly numerous occasions where he paints himself in a much less than favourable light. Shin is certainly no hero - just somebody who survived in a place where even mothers don't trust their own children, and vice versa, each seeing the other as merely an object in the way of their survival. It must also be borne in mind that Shin was not taught a moral code of conduct during his formative years - merely that the 'original sins' of his parents must be atoned for with hard work & that the slightest breach of the rules must be reported to the guards immediately. But then it wasn't until he was in his 20's that somebody so much as "explained the concept of money. He told Shin about the existence of television & computers & mobile phones. He explained that the world was round."

Sat at my laptop, glancing over at my dusty rice cooker - apparently the ultimate status symbol amongst the elite of Pyongyang - it would be impossible to conceive that people could endure such levels of repression for their whole lives, were it not for this remarkable book. It's an incredible story, which comes across as exceptionally honest - it's far too brutal to be anything else. The author & his subject work well together in giving a sense of how such a harsh environment affects the people who live in it. I'm glad that Shin is in a better place now but it's hard to push from my mind the thousands who are still there - after all, he's the only known escapee. We take so very much for granted...

Similar in style & content to Nothing to Envy, Escape From Camp 14 is even more harrowing.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 September 2015
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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on 31 July 2013
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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on 14 September 2013
You know when you are driving along the motorway and pass a five car pile-up and you know you shouldn't look because you're not going to like what you see, but you can't help but look anyway and then once you pass, you are filled with relief that it wasn't you lying there under a crushed vehicle?

That is what reading this book was like.

It was so horrifically fascinating that you can hardly believe this is real life in the 21st Century rather than a dystopian fantasy.

Everyone should be made to read this book just so they truly appreciate they were not born in North Korea.

I learnt more from this book than I did in entire Secondary school's worth of history lessons.

I understand the reasons politically why the rest of the world has never physically intervened in North Korea but morally how can we as a free world live with ourselves if we just stand by and accept that there is an entire country suffering like this?
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on 23 April 2016
A meticulously researched expose-, revealing the quality of life experienced by of the citizens of North Korea, with emphasis strongly placed on those at the bottom of the pecking order. The author's research is centred on the life of a man born into slavery in a remote prison-camp in the North, suffering extreme abuse from the beginning in conditions which are hard to imagine. Having in his twenties escaped the barbed wire of his camp, he fled first to China then South Korea, where attempts at rehabilitation were started. The author Blaine Harden has gone to great lengths to help record this man's story and to assist him on a long road to what we might call normality, but to him must be a completely new and unfamiliar way of life.
I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book, but it certainly made me think !
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