The no frills, matter-of-factness with which the details of life in a labor camp are laid out gave it a gut-wrenching punch thats difficult to describe. There were some chapters I had to stop in the middle of just to fathom how hellish and how 'other' reality is for this country. Some images and scenes will be forever burned into memory. The comparison this book made that has yet to leave me now months after reading this is that concentration camps in Nazi Germany, in many cases (Aushwitz for example) were open for only 3 years. These North Korean labor camps have been running for 50 years, starving entire generations and in some ways creating even more insidious torture for people who are born, raised and die there without ever knowing a different life. You cannot read this book and keep your world view intact, it will be changed.
Shin of course was a captivating character. A balanced portrayal of a life scarred in so many ways and yet resilient. You want to hug him, hate him, cry for him, sometimes all at the same time.
The absence of dramatic effects, almost like a black and white film vs an over the top computer generated film give the facts this story roll out a piercing quality that pokes all the way to the reader's soul. Seriously, I did have to stop and digest some of the scenes and ask myself how far can humanity really go when turned on itself.
You should not find it possible to read this book and then go on about your business of thinking of North Korea as only a country unfortunately ruled by mad monsters. One feels bound to do something to help. The single major -- but very critical -- problem is the amateurish reading performance by the author, marked by literally hundreds of obvious and thus ill-fitting and distracting edits and changes of intonation, reading speed and timbre. I imagine there had to be a good reason for this, but I can't imagine what that reason was. Mr. Harden, you're a pro in the writing, but get a pro to do the reading next time.
My reviews are honest. No sugar coating here.
I watched the interview on 60 Minutes and I was looking forward at reading Shin's memoir. It was interesting to listen to about his life in the labor camp in North Korea, but there is something missing. There is not enough of his story in "Escape from Camp 14." Blaine Harden tells Shin's life as a magazine article that you would find at a doctor's office.
Shin's story is not well told. Shin wrote a book about his life in Korean. I would much rather listened to his version of his life because it would had been more compelling than a journalist telling his story in the third person.
Plus, Harden narrating of his own book is just bad. He has no sense of pace. It is as if he is glancing over the newspaper and reading the headlines.
I'm normally wary of books read by the author, but this one takes the cake. Blaine Harden blows through punctuation relentlessly throughout the entire book, making it a massive run-on sentence. The actual story is well-written, but the manner of the narration just kept making me lose interest to the point that I'd zone out and have to re-listen to whole chapters to figure out what I missed. The story is worth hearing, but if you can find the time to read the book instead, I recommend going that route.
I was not impressed with this book. The story could have been compelling but I found the whole telling of the story to be a list of atrocities - which this man's life was, but the author did not create a way for me to want to hear it all. I stopped after only 6 chapters...it was enough.
Let me begin by saying that, despite the mediocre rating, this book contains vitally important information that everyone should hear. The author presents us with Shin's life in a North Korean work camp, his escape from the camp and from North Korea, and his life following his freedom. He also offers up alarming information regarding North Korea's regime and leaders, the terrible living conditions of its people, and the political issues surrounding the totalitarian terrorist state.
Most of the book is taken up by Shin's life. The conditions he describes in Camp 14 are hideous and appalling. It is reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps except that these have been around for half a century, long enough for the guards to raise new generations of prisoners that have never known freedom. The mentality of these children is something close to psychopathy, knowing nothing of compassion, empathy, love, or anything else beyond the selfish needs of survival. It has been ingrained in them to watch their fellow prisoners and snitch to the guards about any infractions. They feel no loyalty to anyone. Shin betrays his own family to the authorities with no remorse (at the time). The picture he paints resembles a Milgram psychology experiment with moral abandon for the goal of producing the perfect prisoners. This part of the book was both fascinating and horrifying.
The rest is his journey from the camp to ultimate safety in the west, detailing his mental and physical transition from captive to free man. A good deal of it is devoted to the interplay between North Korea, China, and South Korea, mainly in how they treat North Korean refugees. At the same time, Shin's consciousness begins a remarkable transformation as he begins to learn of normal human relations and emotions, experiencing his first pangs of guilt and remorse while learning to live with personal responsibility. His efforts in the U.S. to educate others about his story is also told.
The reason for the low performance rating is that the audio has been mangled. It is painfully obvious that different parts have been spliced together, as the volume and pitch of the speaker frequently change abruptly. Furthermore, the general layout for the book is haphazard. The timeline is scrambled and the insertions by the author with interesting facts are, seemingly, placed at random. A disappointing book for such a vitally important subject.
All told, the information in this book needs to be disseminated as widely as possible. It sheds light not only on the deplorable and internationally illegal human rights crimes that North Korea and China are involved in but also on the political barriers of all involved countries that are preventing improvement. Even knowing beforehand that North Korea was a brainwashing hell-hole of a country that presents a psychopathic terrorist face to the rest of the world, I was shocked by what I learned in this book and I am also now more informed on how it might be helped.
I highly recommend that everyone listen to this book to learn more about what is possibly the blackest stain on humanity's reputation that is currently in existence. It will be especially fascinating to those interested in politics, psychology, and human rights.
I like to read mysteries and adventure. Also, I love it when pets are involved. I like to read about the North ....survival stories.
I just could not believe how bad it is in North Korea. This is a tale of
complete desperation. I still find it hard to imagine people must live
like this today.
I am a 30 year old over-the-road truck driver. I listen to A LOT of audiobooks!
I really enjoyed this book. It sheds light on things I simply never knew existed. The conditions and dehumanizing treatment the central character and everyone he knew were forced to endure was tragic. I guess it is just because I come from an affluent country but I never before met someone that considered plain rice "food for the rich."
Out of this world story. I cannot believe it's true. Stories like this are why I prefer non-fiction over fiction.
I don't know. Mostly he was fine but once I realized it sounded like 2 people were reading it in the middle of sentences, it became difficult to listen without distraction. It seemed as if they went back in later & re stated portions of sentences. Therefore volume & inflection can vary in a single sentence. It's not terribly often but once I noticed it, it drove me a little nutty. If you haven't listened yet, try to forget I mentioned this. The story is incredible & this quirk is easily overlooked.
Likes books and reading/listening
This harrowing tale will perhaps help you feel more appreciative of the basics: freedom to choose what you want to eat, and when. Freedom to fall in love with whoever you want. Freedom to dream about the future or the past, or both. The story is painful and compelling especially in the beginning, when the book concentrates on the boy's life in Camp 14, and on his escape. Life in the "West"? "Capitalism"? offers its own treachery that is not easy to navigate. That's true of so many of us raised in this world. All the harder for basically a person who has lived on another planet his whole life.