Review #114 // Escape from Camp 14 – Blaine Harden

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

Shin Dong-Hyuk is an escaped political prisoner from North Korea, who was born into the camp population with no knowledge of the outside world.

Why this book?: I’m taking AP Human Geography, and we had to choose book off a list of them, and this one caught my interest.

Escape from Camp 14 is definitely not for everyone. It’s brutal and explicit, and Harden really doesn’t pull back on any of the facts, despite how gruesome they might be. It was hard reading this, realizing it wasn’t written too long ago and that what is written between these pages is still going on today. Knowing that a country is starving itself and torturing its citizens is a hard thing to stomach. I felt odd and guilty, reading the book in the comfort of my room, surrounded by privilege and enough food I could ever want. Escape from Camp 14 puts a lot of privileges into perspective.

Like I said before, this book is NOT going to be for everyone. It gets fairly graphic with the torture scenes, and my copy (I don’t know if all of the copies have this) had drawings of the scenes as examples. Even as someone who is normally, 98% of the time, okay with gore, this was an intense ride. The stories as to why Shin was being tortured though, and the culture that developed within the camps were something that were extremely interesting. I felt morbid, wanting to read more but at the same time realizing I was reading about real events happening to a very real person.

Another thing I appreciated was the mix of telling Shin’s story, and informing the reader on events in North Korea. Harden doesn’t assume that you automatically know what’s going on behind the closed borders, but he fills you in enough to understand why Shin did certain things, and why it was irregular. You were fed this information constantly, switching back and forth. Sometimes that got to be a little boring, especially when they got onto the topic of agriculture, but everything eventually came together.

Final Rating: ★★★★☆


I got a lot more than I was expecting from Escape from Camp 14. I was expecting to be buried under information, which is what I usually expect from any nonfiction book. Escape from Camp 14 was able to hook my interest with frequent bouts of a intense story, with breaks of information in-between. Although I was often bored with the information, and sometimes the pacing was off, I was constantly interested in the story.

Would I Recommend?

It really depends on how well you react to gore, and if you’re interested. If you’re not interested, then there’s really no point to reading, but it’s an interesting topic and I feel enlightened on the current issues happening in the North Korean area. I feel like people should give it a chance, because it is very educational, and also provides other texts that have more information on North Korea.

Trigger warnings for torture, extreme gore, parental abuse, starvation, violence, governmental abuse, sexism, rape/sexual assault, and ableism. (I probably missed some, so please be careful.)

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

Published: March 26th, 2012

Publisher: Penguin Books

Page Count: 210

Genre: Non-fiction/Biography/History

Synopsis: via Goodreads

The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escaped

North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. 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 mother and brother.

The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist.

Harden’s harrowing narrative exposes this hidden dystopia, focusing on an extraordinary young man who came of age inside the highest security prison in the highest security state. Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.

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