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.
pounds. His arms are bowed from childhood labor. His lower back and buttocks are scarred with burns from the torturer’s fire. The skin over his pubis bears a puncture scar from the hook used to hold him in place over the fire. His ankles are scarred by shackles, from which he was hung upside down in solitary confinement. His right middle finger is cut off at the first knuckle, a guard’s punishment for dropping a sewing machine in a camp garment factory. His shins, from ankle to knee on both legs,
put an end to this indescribable torment.”2 As wretched as Shin’s life became after the execution of his mother and brother, suicide for him was never more than a passing thought. There was a fundamental difference, in his view, between prisoners who arrived from the outside and those who were born in the camp: many outsiders, shattered by the contrast between a comfortable past and a punishing present, could not find or maintain the will to survive. A perverse benefit of birth in the camp was
photographic surveillance along the border. It extended barbed wire and built new concrete barriers.3 China, too, increased border security to discourage North Koreans from entering the country in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. At the end of January 2005, when Shin went walking toward China with cigarettes and snacks, the window on low-risk passage across the border was almost certainly beginning to close. But he was lucky: orders from on high had not yet changed the bribe-hungry
exhausting, no one slapped, kicked, or punched Shin, and no one threatened him. Fear began to ebb away as abundant food and sleep made it possible for him to regain his strength. When police visited the farm, the farmer told Shin to pretend to be a mute. The farmer vouched for his good character, and the police went away. Still, Shin understood that he was only welcome in the farmer’s house because he was cheap labor. The capacity of the Chinese borderlands to absorb North Koreans is
The North’s food disaster eased in the late 1990s as the government agreed to receive international food aid. The United States became North Korea’s largest aid donor while remaining its most demonized enemy. Every year North Korea needs to produce more than five million tons of rice and cereal grain to feed its twenty-three million people. Nearly every year it falls short, usually by about a million tons. With long winters and high mountains, the country lacks arable land, denies incentives to