Shin Dong-hyuk is the only person known to escape from a political prison camp in North Korea after having been born and raised there. His story as told by Blaine Harden in Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West is extraordinary not only for the picture it paints of life inside the camp, but for the unlikely way Shin escaped and found his way to China, South Korea, and the U.S.
Indeed some of his stories of life inside the camp are so extreme that it’s hard to believe any human could endure life there for long periods of time, much less survive from infancy to adulthood. Shin was rewarded for snitching, his mother meant nothing to him except as a competitor for food, prisoners were killed for small infractions, and children were sometimes beaten to death. Recognizing that readers may be incredulous, Harden cites similar stories told by other prisoners who have escaped other camps over the years. He also details the ways he has endeavored to verify Shin’s story and ways he cannot.
As much as the story is Shin’s, it is also about North Korea and how its isolation from the world community has affected the people who live there. Escape from Camp 14 is not an easy book to read. It is shocking and at times gut wrenching to learn about why people are put in political camps and the conditions they endure there. And you can’t help but imagine the day-to-day struggle Shin faces in a world alien to the one he was raised in. But it’s an important book that will give you faith in the human spirit as well as a new perspective on North Korea every time it pops up in the news. I recommend it for ages 16 and up.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review.