Reads For The Road: Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


North Korea is a fascinating country because there is so little that we know about it. Most of the information that we have is either propaganda fed to us from the country itself, or hearsay from people who have heard stories from someone who has heard a story.

That's what makes Blaine Harden's book Escape From Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West so fascinating. A veteran reporter, Harden wrote the original book (and this updated version with new information) after meeting and interviewing the only known person who was born and raised in a North Korean prison camp to escape — Shin Dong-hyuk. 

Like Nazi concentration camps, labor camps in North Korea use confinement, hunger, and fear to create a kind of Skinner box, a closed, closely regulated chamber in which guards assert absolute control over prisoners. Yet, while Auschwitz existed for only three years, Camp 14 is a fifty-year-old Skinner box, an ongoing longitudinal experiment in repression and mind control in which guards breed prisoners whom they control, isolate, and pit against one another from birth.
— page 107 of "Escape From Camp 14"

We know that prison camps in North Korea exist because they can be clearly seen in satellite photos — though the North Korean government denies their existence.  But little is known about the conditions inside the camps and what the people who live in them go through,

That is, until Shin told his story. 

Imagine being raised by parents who, when they are around, look at you as competition for food and basic needs. Or, not being able to confide in a single human being because anything you say may be used against you and lead to brutal beatings, or worse. How would you feel if you only had one set of clothing that you had to wear until it literally fell off of you, and you had no soap — or time — to wash it. 

This, and much worse, was Shin's reality. But, because it was something that he was born into — a world where being suspicious, hating others, and having zero loyalty to another human being — he had no idea that there was a different way to live. 

The book is a heartbreaking, eyeopening, and shocking true story about a mysterious part of the world that is told through the eyes of someone who lived immersed in it, and is now slowly trying to come to terms with who he is now that he has been removed from it. 

If you have any interest at all in North Korea and the conditions of the people who live there, I highly recommend it. It's a riveting, quick read, and I guarantee you won'r be able to put it down.