Escape from Camp 14

  • by Blaine Harden
  • Narrated by Blaine Harden
  • 5 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.


What the Critics Say

“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)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Worthwhile, but difficult on many levels.

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.
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- Amanda "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."


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.
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- Teresa Lukey "I love reading and going on vacation with my family."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-29-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.