Escape From Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14


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. (Summary and book cover courtesy of


This was a very educational as well as interesting book.  While I had heard about North Korean camps, I was not familiar with the magnitude of the suppression.  There are many gruesome events in the book that show the full extent that people are willing to go in North Korea to survive.  Unfortunately, it seems that things have only become stricter since Shin’s escape.  I really appreciated the author’s effort to explain the fact checking and where stories could be corroborated.  If not for this, it would be easy to dismiss the story as sensationalized or exaggerated.

Shin is not an infallible character; he has many flaws that he slowly comes to realize as he is integrated into Western culture.  It was interesting how Harden was able to explain Shin’s perspective and why it wasn’t until Shin made it to Seoul and the USA that he saw issues with his actions.  I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking to learn more about North Korea and to get insight to a very different culture than the USA.

Warning: Contains violence

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it?  People interested in an insight to North Korea and the “why” behind some of the things we do know about the country.