Escape from Camp 14
One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
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 Donghyuk 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.
A Te achable Moment
His first memory is an execution.
He walked with his mother to a wheat field near the Taedong River, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. Excited by the crowd, the boy crawled between adult legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.
Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a supervising guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labor, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government. To prevent the prisoner from cursing the state that was about to take his life, guards stuffed pebbles into his mouth, then covered his head with a hood.
At that first execution, Shin watched three guards take aim. Each fired three times. The reports of their rifles terrified the boy and he fell over backward. But he scrambled to his feet in time to see guards untie a slack, blood-spattered body, wrap it in a blanket, and heave it into a cart.
In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them. The labor camp used a public killing—and the fear it generated—as a teachable moment.
Shin’s guards in the camp were his teachers—and his breeders. They had selected his mother and father. They taught him that prisoners who break camp rules deserve death. On a hillside near his school, a slogan was posted: all according to the rules and regulations. The boy memorized the camp’s ten rules, “The Ten Commandments,” as he later called them, and can still recite them by heart. The first one stated: “Anyone caught escaping will be shot immediately.”
Shin arrived this time in the backseat of a car driven by a guard. He wore handcuffs and a blindfold fashioned from a rag. His father, also handcuffed and blindfolded, sat beside him in the car.
They had been released from eight months in an underground prison inside Camp 14. As a condition of their release, they had signed documents promising never to discuss what had happened to them underground.
In that prison within a prison, guards tried to torture a confession out of Shin and his father. They wanted to know about the failed escape of Shin’s mother and only brother. Guards stripped Shin, tied ropes to his ankles and wrists, and suspended him from a hook in the ceiling. They lowered him over a fire. He passed out when his flesh began to burn.
But he confessed nothing. He had nothing to confess. He had not conspired with his mother and brother to escape. He believed what guards had taught him since his birth inside the camp: He could never escape and he must inform on anyone who talks about trying. Not even in his dreams had Shin fantasized about life on the outside.
Guards never taught him what every North Korean schoolboy learns: Americans are “bastards” scheming to invade and humiliate the homeland. South Korea is the “bitch” of its American master. North Korea is a great country whose brave and brilliant leaders are the envy of the world. Indeed, he knew nothing of the existence of South Korea, China, or the United States."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
"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 bestselling author of Lost in Shangri-La
"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."
"Mr. Shin's story, at times painful to read, recounts his physical and psychological journey from a lifetime of imprisonment in a closed and unfeeling prison society to the joys and challenges of life in a free society where he can live like a human being."
-Kongdan Oh, co-author of The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom
"Through the extraordinary arc of Shin's life, Harden illuminates the North Korea that exists beyond the headlines and creates a moving testament to one man's struggle to retrieve his own lost humanity."
-Marcus Noland, co-author of Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea
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