Book Review: Escape from Camp 14

Posted: May 6, 2013 in Book Reviews

A lot of my teens read this book. It’s a creepy, weird and good – true story.

MARCH 29, 2012 BY  

Before Shin Dong-hyuk, no one born in a North Korean political prison camp had ever escaped. As far as can be determined, Shin is still the only one to do so. He was 23 years old, knew no one, and had never before seen the outside world.

Author Blaine Harden’s homepage features a quote from Canada’s National Post which says Escape from Camp 14 “makes The Hunger Games and its fellow dystopias read like Fantasy Island.” This story has teen appeal in spades.

The book grew out of the author’s 2008 Washington Post article. Take a look at Sunday’s Wall Street Journal for a long excerpt, which ends with information on how Shin’s story has been vetted.

HARDEN, Blaine. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. 224p. maps. notes. Viking. 2012. Tr $26.95. ISBN 978-0-670-02332-5. LC 2011019555.  Escape from Camp 14 e1332524935330 Escape from Camp 14

Adult/High School–Curriculums are filled with atrocities from the past, such as the Holocaust and slavery, but this book brings to light one that is happening in our lifetime and has been happening for 50 years. In North Korea, more than 100,000 people are held in prison labor camps for often the smallest of crimes, or in the case of Shin Dong-hyuk, the crime of being born there to parents who were “given” to each other for good behavior. Raised in starvation conditions (the day he licked spilled soup off the floor is not even the worst attempt to feed himself), Shin had no idea there was another world out there. That is, until he was thrown into prison at age 13 and brutally tortured when his mother and brother tried to escape. There, for the first time, he met someone who had lived on the outside, and a small seed of potential was planted. At age 23, Shin finally made his escape into China, the first known person who was born in the camps to escape them. However, it’s no surprise that in his late ‘20s, he doesn’t always make wise decisions and is unprepared for life on the outside. Harden originally wrote Shin’s story for the Washington Post, and he brings a journalist’s eye to filling in backstory on North Korean policies and conditions. For example, why does South Korea turn a relatively blind eye to these atrocities? The answer may surprise. This is the kind of eye-opening book that motivates change and involvement.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

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