Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
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The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escaped
North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.
In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. 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 mother and brother.
The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist.
Harden’s harrowing narrative exposes this hidden dystopia, focusing on an extraordinary young man who came of age inside the highest security prison in the highest security state. Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.
to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home. North Korea’s labor camps have now existed twice as long as the Soviet Gulag and about twelve times longer than the Nazi concentration camps. There is no dispute about where these camps are. High-resolution satellite photographs, accessible on Google Earth to anyone with an Internet connection, show vast fenced compounds sprawling through the rugged mountains of North Korea. The South Korean
farms to assist with the fall harvest, soldiers monitor them to make sure they do not steal food. The permanent deployment of soldiers on farms has spawned corruption. Kwon said that farm managers pay off soldiers, who then turn a blind eye to large-scale theft of food that is later sold in private markets. Disputes among groups of corrupt soldiers periodically lead to fistfights and shootouts, according to a number of defectors and reports by aid groups. Good Friends, the Buddhist aid group
homeless teens, dared criticize or poke fun at their leaders. Surveys of recent defectors in China have found that this fear is persistent and almost universal. For Shin, the biggest struggle remained finding enough to eat. But marauding for food was hardly an exceptional activity in North Korea. “Stealing was always a problem,” Charles Robert Jenkins wrote in his 2008 memoir about forty years of living inside the country. “If you didn’t watch your things, someone would always be happy to
his village would sneak into the orchard just north of the cluster of concrete dwellings where they lived. They picked unripe pears and cucumbers and ate them as quickly as they could. When they were caught, guards would beat them with batons and ban them from lunch at school for several days. Guards, though, did not care if Shin and his friends ate rats, frogs, snakes, and insects. They were intermittently abundant in the sprawling camp, which used few pesticides, relied on human waste as
couple of desultory whacks with a stick. More often they would do nothing. It was common for Shin and other students to take a chance. The pretty little girl was just unlucky, as Shin saw it. He had been trained by guards and teachers to believe that every time he was beaten, he deserved it—because of the treasonous blood he had inherited from his parents. The girl was no different. Shin thought her punishment was just and fair, and he never became angry with his teacher for killing her. He