Reviewed by Jill P. on May 30, 2012
Escape from Camp 14 details the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who was born in a North Korean labor camp in 1982 and escaped to the South Korea at the age of 23. Written by the journalist, Blaine Harden, the facts of Shin’s life are grim. As one of 50,000 prisoners in the camp, Shin struggled daily to survive, subsisting of starvation level rations supplemented with rats, lizards and whatever else could be scavenged. Family members stole food from one another and informed on one another and on other prisoners in the hopes of receiving favorable treatment.
Through two older prisoners, Shin learned a bit about the outside world, which led him to escape in 2005. It is thought that he is one of a few that has escaped these prison camps, and perhaps the only one to escape who was born in a prison camp. His post-escape journey takes him through China, South Korea and eventually to the United States where he now advocates for North Korean political reforms. This is an exceptional, if harrowing book. For more detailed information about contemporary North Korean life, I suggest Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.