The shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.
North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped - but Shin Dong-hyuk did.
In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and, through the lens of Shin’s life, unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence: he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.
Blaine Harden is a contributor to the Economist and has formerly served as the Washington Post’s bureau chief in East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He is the author of Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent and A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
©2012 Blaine Harden (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“If you have a soul, you will be changed forever by Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14…Harden masterfully allows us to know Shin, not as a giant but as a man, struggling to understand what was done to him and what he was forced to do to survive. By doing so, Escape from Camp 14 stands as a searing indictment of a depraved regime and a tribute to all those who cling to their humanity in the face of evil.” (Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times best-selling author of Lost in Shangri-La)
“This is a story unlike any other…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…The integrity of this book shines through on every page.” (Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea)
“With a protagonist born into a life of backbreaking labor, cutthroat rivalries, and a nearly complete absence of human affection, Harden’s book reads like a dystopian thriller. But this isn’t fiction - it’s the biography of Shin Dong-hyuk.” (Publishers Weekly)
I would recommend this to anyone who wants to know how lucky free nations are.
The survival of a human being.
I love to hear the author read his own book. Blaine was no exception.
I will never forget this story. It reminds me how lucky I am to be an American.
I love personal memoirs, and this one is particularly well done and engaging. There is a good balance of Shen's personal story and the overall politics of North Korea and how it fits into the world.
The pace of the story and its editing are very good. The story kept my attention and the reader/author is better than most. I was leery, because I find that authors who read their own works are usually not the best narrators.
Although many memoirs are touching and emotionally provoking, I found this book to really hit a chord about understanding the impossibility of growing up to be a normal functioning human when one is raised under inhumane conditions. PTSD to the nth degree. Shen and similarly neglected and abused persons, I think, require much support to live in the world at large, with all of its sensory overload and social complexity. Although I knew about North Korea and many of its deplorable conditions, the people of North Korea now have a daily place in my heart, and I pray for them, each and every one.
Can this be true? Its ridiculous that a human condition and psyche can be created like this.
Its a fascinating story and worth listening to.
The reader was a bit monotonous and there were clear audio edits all the time with different quality and mics.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
My husband and I listened to this book together and a road trip. He, a retired soldier, me, a retired CFO. We are parents of five, grandparents of seven. Middle class, penny pinchers, not extravagant. Family oriented, Christians. Our oldest son is a soldier. He's been stationed in South Korea twice. He's been to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our youngest son was also a soldier, deployed to Iraq. We adopted our youngest daughter from a Romanian orphanage. My point? Our family, compared to many, has experienced varied lifestyles, seen suffering in other countries and cultures, been exposed to wars, loved, accepted and even adopted one who was "thrown away". BUT . . . the story in Escape from Camp 14 is different than any our family has heard, seen or experienced. In Iraq and Afghanistan, countries ravaged by terrorism and war, mothers still cling to hope and grasp their children in their arms. Families still cling together until the moment of death. In Romania, even during and before the revolution, although many mothers abandoned their children to orphanages, it was almost always due to not having the resources to care for them at home. The family structure was still strong, Christianity although underground, flourished. Listening to Escape from Camp 14 was absolutely chilling. If anyone has a doubt about what pure evil is, they need to listen. It is little wonder that Shin lied repeatedly to Blaine Harden when telling his story. My heart rose and fell as I listened, I hoped, then immediately felt sad as I continued to listen as Shin again failed in his new surroundings. A child who had never had any expectations shown to him, no nurturing, no warmth . . . but instead is taught from birth to manipulate. It is frightening. You have to listen to the ENTIRE story. The end is absolutely WORTH THE WAIT. Thank you, Blaine Harden for one of the most harrowing, most redeeming, stories I have ever heard.
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 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."
C. A. Dees
This is an important story for anyone concerned about the struggle for human rights in the world. It is almost inconceivable that the man at the center of this story, Shin Dong Hyuk, was able to survive the brutality of perhaps the most notorious prison in North Korea, but even more so, to escape and find his own sense of humanity and a modicum of peace.
Shin's fellow inmate who tells him stories about life outside the prison, and in so doing, introduces Shin to the idea of kindness for kindness's sake -- a book about that alone would be fascinating.
Not likely, though I would read one of his books.
That the most brutal prisons in North Korea don't bother to indoctrinate prisoners about "the Great Leader," etc., because there's no point. Those prisoners aren't leaving and there is no pretense of re-education along the party line. They are, simply, slaves.
While the text itself was good (if a little lacking in passion) the narration was truly awful. The author's reading itself was tolerable, though monotone and without any real inflection. However, that, combined with choppy editing, varying sound levels and equalization, made for a difficult listening experience over the span of several hours. This seemed to be edited by someone who had no experience editing voice recordings. Breaths are cut off, there are no pauses between sentences or even paragraphs, and there was little awareness of flow. A book this important deserves a thoughtful, professional narration.
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.
If you are really interested in the content of this book, the narration is bearable. If you're only somewhat interested, the narration will probably kill the book for you. If you are not looking specifically for a story about someone who was born in one of these camps escaping, I think Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy is a much better book both in performance and story. I'd recommend listening to Nothing to Envy before Escape from Camp 14.
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