Escape from Camp 14:
One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
by Blaine Harden
$26.95 List Price
Blaine Harden’s chronicle of Shin Dong-hyuk’s life in a North Korean prison camp and his eventual escape is a slim, searing, humble book—as close to perfect as these volumes of anguished testimony can be. Shin is a child of the camp system in the most literal sense—he was born in 1982 in Camp 14, one of the half-dozen secret facilities that dot the country, forming a modern gulag archipelago holding up to two hundred thousand prisoners. And while some of the camps allow for rehabilitation and release (albeit with lifetime monitoring), Shin was born into a “complete control district,” a place where prisoners are trapped for life. The inmates work until they die—usually at a young age—from disease, starvation, accident, or execution. They’re punished for even the smallest infraction, such as gathering in groups of three or more, stealing food, or failing to fulfill their impossibly arduous work quotas. If they don’t report another prisoner’s rule breaking, it’s a capital offense. Snitching is considered a virtue—one of the few inculcated by camp guards and teachers, who never reveal their names.
When Shin was fourteen, he was forced to watch as his mother and brother were executed for planning an escape. Shin was taken to an underground prison and tortured for information about his presumed role in the scheme. He was kept there for months and nearly died, but another prisoner nursed him back to health and told him stories from the outside world. (In all likelihood, the prisoner was a spy meant to gather information from Shin.) Despite the assaults targeting Shin’s family,