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 rate as follows: 5 Stars = Loved it. 4 Stars = Really liked it. 3 Stars = Liked it. 2 Stars = Didn't like it. 1 Star = Hated it.
As the beginning of this book points out, there seems to be little attention given to the stunning suffering and abuse currently being experienced by the North Korean people. Because so few escape to tell their stories, little is known of these political prison camps that hold so many – some since their birth, with this being the only “life” they will ever know.
Be warned that the book is much like an extended news article; this makes sense since it was written by a news reporter. The sound quality of the production is terrible, and the editing in places is painfully poor. It appears there was not much budget available for this important book, which is a shame.
That being said, I encourage everyone to devote the trivial 5 hours and 31 minutes it takes to listen to this story. I think it’s the least we can do to begin to understand the criminal atrocities these people as a nation are currently attempting to survive.
I've always felt that it is important to include books that reflect the reality of our imperfect world along with my regular indulgences into the Sci Fi and Mystery genres. My recent purchase, Escape from Camp 14 was a powerful true story that had me outraged about the labor camps in North Korea. So why did I only give it two stars in that category?
In January of 2015 the prisoner, Shin Dong-hyuk, recanted parts of his story. It was published in 2012 and fortunately I waited until 2015 to listen to it. Otherwise I would have been indignantly blathering on about a false story for three years. I still think it is horrible over in North Korea labor camps. There is too much other evidence to deny this fact. But, Shin Dong-hyuk has recently recanted parts of this story that had moved me so intensely. The remaining stuff still reflects badly on the North Korean regime, but it is tough to know if this is not more of the same and made up.
This is the first time I've given out a spoiler that may have ruined the story. Google certainly is a great leveler when researching the truth. It even returned a North Korean propaganda film of Shin's dad responding to the book. That sounded phoney and untrustworthy as well. So now I will probably never know the real true story about a defector who probably experienced torture and injustice at the hands of a brutal dictatorship and felt the need to overstate and lie about it.
I started out intending to write a review demanding that you read this book. After a bit of research it has ended up as a piece that will probably discourage potential listeners - and I still need to find a non fiction book to balance out my appetite for fiction.
I love reading and going on vacation with my family.
Once upon a time there was crazy SOB, who ran a country. He decided that anyone who opposes him must be eliminated, in fact it appears to remain a family tradition. This SOB decided that 3 generations of bad blood must be eliminated, therefore it became acceptable to work these people to death or simply kill them at will. Upon finishing this book, I thought I'd give it a 4-star rating, but as I cannot get this one out of my head, I am upping my rating to 5-stars. The author did a great job of capturing not only the life of someone born and raised in a North Korean work camp, but he opened my eyes to the life the average North Korean lives-impoverished and afraid.
This book is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk. Born to parents who were given an opportunity to have children for their adeptness at snitching. As you can imagine, this was not a nurturing environment for a child and Shin grew to be a snitch and thought of his mother of little more than a competitor for food. Shin had siblings, but did not have a relationship with the and only knew of their activities in a vague sense. Love was not something found in these camps, where people work to harvest rice and mine coal, even amongst the families.
Children attend elementary schooling until 10 years of age, at which time they start working. Shin and a group of his classmates were assigned to bring coal up from the mines at 10 year of age. Needless to say, one child was injured when a cart rolled back and crushed her big toe. The child was taken to receive medical treatment, where she had her toe amputated and treated with salt water. Work was not allowed to stop as a result of the accident. This was also the case when part of a dam collapsed during construction and crushed several people working in the area.
Not only does North Korea not have the means available to take care of its captives, the people who live outside the camps have long been suffering due to low food availability. After Shin escapes from the camp, he finds life on the outside not much better, other than these people are not beaten and force in to degrading tasks. Shin eventually makes it out of North Korea by bribing starving border guards with food and cigarettes, enabling him to get to China. Over the next year, Shin attempts works as a ranch hand and a dishwasher to earn the cash needed to survive and find his way to South Korea before he is found out by the Chinese government and sent back to North Korea. Yes, that's right, they send these people back to their country, so they do not have a rush of people crossing that need support and as to not "offend" its neighbor.
There are as many as 200,000 people imprisoned in North Korean work/concentration camps, the largest camp being 25 miles wide by 31 miles long. Yes this is a huge area, something like the size of Los Angeles and it is all enclosed by fencing and guard towers. I hoped on google earth to check out the areas these camps are in and there is no doubt about it-they are there, but North Korea continues to deny there existence.
Eventually Shin finds his way to South Korea. As it happens, South Korea will help anyone who escapes from North Korea. They re-educate these people, provide psychological assistance, medical treatment, a place to live and even a monthly stipend of $800 for two years, while these people attempt to create a normal existence for themselves.
I cannot stop thinking about this book and how it has opened my eyes. The atrocities documented in this book are disturbing to say the least, but people need to know what is going on in North Korea. I have been telling everyone I know about North Korea's treatment of its people and what is being done about it. One thought that keeps plaguing me regarding North Korea is, why isn't someone doing everything in their power to eliminate the people in charge of this country with WMD? We have entered in to a war before for similar reasons, but I feel like we turn a blind eye to this country. Why? Do they have to fire on us first? Or, do they just not have anything that will directly benefit us? I'm not one to understand the politics behind something, but I am angered by the treatment these peole are enduring. Read this book, spread the word, let's get these people some help. Visit the One Free Korea website for more information.
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.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
I appreciated "Nothing to Envy" by Barbara Demick... the understanding it brought of the North Korean people and lifestyle meant a great deal to me... despite the poor narration and rough writing style. This book is much shorter and less convoluted as it follows just the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in detention Camp 14 in North Korea and knew no other life. It also has issues with writing style and narration... written in an irritating 3rd person and narrated by the author... however, I couldn't stop listening. The horrific mental and physical abuse he and his family suffered, his unbelievable escape and struggles adapting to freedom are heartbreaking. Mr. Harden's 3rd person style does allow him to explain the politics of the region and recent events. Very much worth my time to listen and learn.
yes but not audio
Overly pronounced 't''s, sound not consistently modulated. Could readily tell when author stopped and started and the sound level was inconsistent.
Interesting information but needs a different narrator.
Truthful information, including that the escapee is a flawed individual and unable to adapt to life outside the prison.
Narrator is the author, flat and boring tone to his voice.
Narration leaves a lot to be desired. Flat monotone and edits of the read are very obvious.
I highly recommend this book to anyone.
No it not. This book has too much raw emotion and I could not handle it all in one sitting
Something needs to be done about the repressive government in North Korea. How can we just sit on their hands and do nothing about it. We have been hearing stories for some time now about conditions in North Korea. If we continue to do nothing it will be like ignoring the stories that were coming out of Nazi occupied Europe during WWII of the extermination camps. History will judge us on how we responded to this tyranny How will that story be told, will it be one that we are proud of, or will we be so ashamed of our inaction?
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.
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.
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