Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

Escape from Camp 14
One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Author: Blaine Harden
Hardcover: 224 pages 
Publisher: Viking Adult (March 29, 2012)
Amazon Link

Note: I received a review copy of this book free from the publisher, Viking Adult. The review posted below is based on my personal thoughts while reading the book.

Ratings: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

My thoughts:

North Korea. I have always been interested in this country for years so when Penguin approached me for a review, I instantly said yes.  The book is about Shin Dong-hyuk life story, the only North Korean  known to have escaped Camp 14, a prison/labor camp for the political enemies of North Korea.  

Reading the first two to three chapters, I was a bit hesitant to read more because of the gory things (beating children to death, execution by hanging, firing squad, etc.) mentioned in this book and the fact that these are really happening in North Korea.  I was so absorbed by it, felt like my eyes were glued to the pages of the book. This is the book I cannot say I enjoyed reading, it was actually painful to read Shin's story but I just couldn't stop. Imagine, Shin's first memory was an execution of one prisoner from Camp 14, he was just four, a baby to our eyes. However, for Shin, and other North Korean prisoners, babies or not, they must be exposed to almost "daily" execution.

Some years later, Shin was again forced by the prison guards to witness the execution of his own mother and brother. They were executed because they tried to escape.  Reading this book was like reading Hitler's Holocaust stories. I nearly cried when I finished this book. How he managed to survive and  escape from the brutality of North Korean militaries was absolutely unbelievable. No one escaped camp 14 but Shin did.

Frankly, I don't understand myself. Why should I be interested with North Koreans or even Hitler's stories? I don't really have an answer for that. Perhaps it is because every time I read  things like this, I appreciate and value life more.

I highly recommend this, totally a life-changing book that one would not stop reading until the last pages of the book.

About the book:

The shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.

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.

About the Author:

Blaine Harden is an author and journalist who reports for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. He worked for The Washington Post in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a roving national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the Times Magazine.

His most recent book is Escape From Camp 14. It's the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person to have been born and raised in a North Korean prison camp -- and to have escaped to the West. It will published in late March in the United States by Viking, and in much of Europe in April. In a pre-publication review, Publisher's Weekly said Escape from Camp 14 "reads like a dystopian thriller."

Blaine is also the author of A River Lost. It's about well-intentioned Americans (including the author's father) who dammed and degraded the West's greatest river, the Columbia. The New York Times called it a "hard-nosed, tough-minded, clear-eyed dispatch on the sort of contentious subject that is almost always distorted by ideology or obscured by a fog of sentiment." An updated and revised edition of A River Lost will be published by Norton in the spring of 2012 to coincide with a PBS American Experience program about Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia River.

Blaine's first book, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, was described by The Independent (London) as the "best contemporary book on Africa."

Blaine lives in Seattle with his wife Jessica and their two children, Lucinda and Arno.


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