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Escape from Camp 14

One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
Written by: Blaine Harden
Narrated by: Blaine Harden
Length: 5 hrs and 31 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (95 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 Dong-hyuk 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.

Blaine Harden is a contributor to the Economist and has formerly served as the Washington Post’s bureau chief in East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He is the author of Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent and A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

©2012 Blaine Harden (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the critics say

“If you have a soul, you will be changed forever by Blaine Harden’s  Escape from Camp 14…Harden masterfully allows us to know Shin, not as a giant but as a man, struggling to understand what was done to him and what he was forced to do to survive. By doing so,  Escape from Camp 14 stands as a searing indictment of a depraved regime and a tribute to all those who cling to their humanity in the face of evil.” (Mitchell Zuckoff,  New York Times best-selling author of  Lost in Shangri-La)
“This is a story unlike any other…More so than any other book on North Korea, including my own,  Escape from Camp 14 exposes the cruelty that is the underpinning of Kim Jong Il’s regime. Blaine Harden, a veteran foreign correspondent from the  Washington Post, tells this story masterfully…The integrity of this book shines through on every page.” (Barbara Demick, author of  Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea)
“With a protagonist born into a life of backbreaking labor, cutthroat rivalries, and a nearly complete absence of human affection, Harden’s book reads like a dystopian thriller. But this isn’t fiction - it’s the biography of Shin Dong-hyuk.” ( Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

The story was great, the narration not so much

What an incredible story into an area of world that is so isolated from modern society; truly eye-opening! The only aspect of it that I did not so much enjoy was the narration. There were a great number of pauses throughout the book in places that, grammatically, did not make any sense. There were also a few incidences were the author/narrator stumbled over his words. This was not the best performance that I know Amazon Audible is capable of.
However, the book itself was well worth it!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing story, less amazing narration

A morbidly fascinating journey from the escape from a top security concentration camp in North Korea to the struggle to adapt to modern life in the South and beyond. Blaine Harden weaves Shin's story with historical context and what known facts exist from this secretive totalitarian world, but his aptitude for storytelling should have been confined to the written word. His narration style was emotionless, robotic, and awkward, and I caught myself thinking more than once that Siri would have been more engaging to listen to. What made it worse were the frequent pickups/corrective patches that were clearly recorded at a different time and with a different microphone. The result was a poorly produced, Frankenstein-esque audioscape that was thoroughly jarring. Such a shame, because the story is one that should be read and shared as much as possible. You can grin and bear it, but if you can, it's worth reading the physical book of this one.

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interesting if not terrifying

amazing story, and as someone that grew up in the west, a little confusing at times. parts of this story are so terrifying it's hard to believe they are true. from a presentation perspective, Blaine's reading was fine, although I believe spots had to be re recorded but aren't balanced, so you get sharp spikes in audio in the middle of a sentence, it was jarring every time.

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  • HW
  • 2019-11-03

Fascinating story ruined by the way it was read

This is a fascinating story and the writer’s words told it well. However the writer should not be the reader. A professional reader should have been employed as this was read in an extremely dull and uninteresting way which significantly reduced the overall impact. Stick to what you are good at Mr Harden and get other people to read your work out loud.

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This story is powerful!

After listening to this man's life story, I am more grateful in my life, and compelled to do better.

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  • RTS
  • 2018-05-29

A great story to listen to again and again

The story is quite impressive and very well written. The recording though has some problems that are distracting, with ups and downs in quality and volume, and clear differences in the way the speaker sounds. That’s the one thing that really deserves a do-over. That said, this is an audiobook I’ll certainly come back to in a few months.

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Super powerful.

Super powerful. Listened to it in two or three days. Wish there was. Wish there was more I could do. Amazing.

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Very interesting story, pretty bad audio

A very interesting (and eye opening) story, but the narration volume and quality varies wildly which was pretty distracting.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Eye opening!

Listening to this story has me feeling blessed for the life that I have. I will pay it forward! Thank you brave Shin for sharing your story.

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Very Moving

The story was very moving, easy to follow and profoundly inspirational. Well worth listening to.

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  • Amanda
  • 2012-05-17

Worthwhile, but difficult on many levels.

As the beginning of this book points out, there seems to be little attention given to the stunning suffering and abuse currently being experienced by the North Korean people. Because so few escape to tell their stories, little is known of these political prison camps that hold so many – some since their birth, with this being the only “life” they will ever know.

Be warned that the book is much like an extended news article; this makes sense since it was written by a news reporter. The sound quality of the production is terrible, and the editing in places is painfully poor. It appears there was not much budget available for this important book, which is a shame.

That being said, I encourage everyone to devote the trivial 5 hours and 31 minutes it takes to listen to this story. I think it’s the least we can do to begin to understand the criminal atrocities these people as a nation are currently attempting to survive.

45 of 46 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Teresa Lukey
  • 2012-05-06

A STORY THAT WILL DISTURB AND MOTIVATE YOU!

Once upon a time there was crazy SOB, who ran a country. He decided that anyone who opposes him must be eliminated, in fact it appears to remain a family tradition. This SOB decided that 3 generations of bad blood must be eliminated, therefore it became acceptable to work these people to death or simply kill them at will. Upon finishing this book, I thought I'd give it a 4-star rating, but as I cannot get this one out of my head, I am upping my rating to 5-stars. The author did a great job of capturing not only the life of someone born and raised in a North Korean work camp, but he opened my eyes to the life the average North Korean lives-impoverished and afraid.

This book is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk. Born to parents who were given an opportunity to have children for their adeptness at snitching. As you can imagine, this was not a nurturing environment for a child and Shin grew to be a snitch and thought of his mother of little more than a competitor for food. Shin had siblings, but did not have a relationship with the and only knew of their activities in a vague sense. Love was not something found in these camps, where people work to harvest rice and mine coal, even amongst the families.

Children attend elementary schooling until 10 years of age, at which time they start working. Shin and a group of his classmates were assigned to bring coal up from the mines at 10 year of age. Needless to say, one child was injured when a cart rolled back and crushed her big toe. The child was taken to receive medical treatment, where she had her toe amputated and treated with salt water. Work was not allowed to stop as a result of the accident. This was also the case when part of a dam collapsed during construction and crushed several people working in the area.

Not only does North Korea not have the means available to take care of its captives, the people who live outside the camps have long been suffering due to low food availability. After Shin escapes from the camp, he finds life on the outside not much better, other than these people are not beaten and force in to degrading tasks. Shin eventually makes it out of North Korea by bribing starving border guards with food and cigarettes, enabling him to get to China. Over the next year, Shin attempts works as a ranch hand and a dishwasher to earn the cash needed to survive and find his way to South Korea before he is found out by the Chinese government and sent back to North Korea. Yes, that's right, they send these people back to their country, so they do not have a rush of people crossing that need support and as to not "offend" its neighbor.

There are as many as 200,000 people imprisoned in North Korean work/concentration camps, the largest camp being 25 miles wide by 31 miles long. Yes this is a huge area, something like the size of Los Angeles and it is all enclosed by fencing and guard towers. I hoped on google earth to check out the areas these camps are in and there is no doubt about it-they are there, but North Korea continues to deny there existence.

Eventually Shin finds his way to South Korea. As it happens, South Korea will help anyone who escapes from North Korea. They re-educate these people, provide psychological assistance, medical treatment, a place to live and even a monthly stipend of $800 for two years, while these people attempt to create a normal existence for themselves.

I cannot stop thinking about this book and how it has opened my eyes. The atrocities documented in this book are disturbing to say the least, but people need to know what is going on in North Korea. I have been telling everyone I know about North Korea's treatment of its people and what is being done about it. One thought that keeps plaguing me regarding North Korea is, why isn't someone doing everything in their power to eliminate the people in charge of this country with WMD? We have entered in to a war before for similar reasons, but I feel like we turn a blind eye to this country. Why? Do they have to fire on us first? Or, do they just not have anything that will directly benefit us? I'm not one to understand the politics behind something, but I am angered by the treatment these peole are enduring. Read this book, spread the word, let's get these people some help. Visit the One Free Korea website for more information.

28 of 31 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • D. Jacobsen
  • 2012-04-16

Geat Memoir

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I love personal memoirs, and this one is particularly well done and engaging. There is a good balance of Shen's personal story and the overall politics of North Korea and how it fits into the world.

What did you like best about this story?

The pace of the story and its editing are very good. The story kept my attention and the reader/author is better than most. I was leery, because I find that authors who read their own works are usually not the best narrators.

What???s the most interesting tidbit you???ve picked up from this book?

Although many memoirs are touching and emotionally provoking, I found this book to really hit a chord about understanding the impossibility of growing up to be a normal functioning human when one is raised under inhumane conditions. PTSD to the nth degree. Shen and similarly neglected and abused persons, I think, require much support to live in the world at large, with all of its sensory overload and social complexity. Although I knew about North Korea and many of its deplorable conditions, the people of North Korea now have a daily place in my heart, and I pray for them, each and every one.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Russell
  • 2015-02-15

Non Fiction or Fiction

I've always felt that it is important to include books that reflect the reality of our imperfect world along with my regular indulgences into the Sci Fi and Mystery genres. My recent purchase, Escape from Camp 14 was a powerful true story that had me outraged about the labor camps in North Korea. So why did I only give it two stars in that category?

In January of 2015 the prisoner, Shin Dong-hyuk, recanted parts of his story. It was published in 2012 and fortunately I waited until 2015 to listen to it. Otherwise I would have been indignantly blathering on about a false story for three years. I still think it is horrible over in North Korea labor camps. There is too much other evidence to deny this fact. But, Shin Dong-hyuk has recently recanted parts of this story that had moved me so intensely. The remaining stuff still reflects badly on the North Korean regime, but it is tough to know if this is not more of the same and made up.

This is the first time I've given out a spoiler that may have ruined the story. Google certainly is a great leveler when researching the truth. It even returned a North Korean propaganda film of Shin's dad responding to the book. That sounded phoney and untrustworthy as well. So now I will probably never know the real true story about a defector who probably experienced torture and injustice at the hands of a brutal dictatorship and felt the need to overstate and lie about it.

I started out intending to write a review demanding that you read this book. After a bit of research it has ended up as a piece that will probably discourage potential listeners - and I still need to find a non fiction book to balance out my appetite for fiction.

24 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • SF
  • 2013-02-21

Detracted by authors poor reading

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

yes but not audio

How could the performance have been better?

Overly pronounced 't''s, sound not consistently modulated. Could readily tell when author stopped and started and the sound level was inconsistent.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard
  • 2012-06-03

A Story that needs to be told

Would you listen to Escape from Camp 14 again? Why?

I highly recommend this book to anyone.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No it not. This book has too much raw emotion and I could not handle it all in one sitting

Any additional comments?

Something needs to be done about the repressive government in North Korea. How can we just sit on their hands and do nothing about it. We have been hearing stories for some time now about conditions in North Korea. If we continue to do nothing it will be like ignoring the stories that were coming out of Nazi occupied Europe during WWII of the extermination camps. History will judge us on how we responded to this tyranny How will that story be told, will it be one that we are proud of, or will we be so ashamed of our inaction?

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Louise
  • 2012-06-05

We should be aware of this horror!

I had no idea as to the extent of horror being perpetrated in North Korea. It is happening NOW under our noses - just the way the Holocaust did (for a much shorter time) and we are often filled with disbelief when those generations say they were not aware of it happening.
So now -the very least we can do is be aware of this situation and this book is a very fine way to do it. It easily holds your attention - it does not need to add anything to be 'sensational' or 'shocking' - it is that without trying - but written and read very very well.
It is a terrible thing that this is happening. Thank you for bringing this to our hearts and minds.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sharey
  • 2016-05-19

Excellent!

Finally, a book without fluff where no word is superfluous. Excellent story, writing and narration. It far exceeded my expectations and I ended up listening to it, virtually straight through. Highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael
  • 2013-03-25

Everyone needs to know what is in this book

Would you listen to Escape from Camp 14 again? Why?

I would listen to this again if I feel I have forgotten how much evil there is in North Korea. This book is so sad. The worst part is that it is all verifiable. I found myself looking things up on Google and then just shaking my head in disbelief.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The writer does a great job of telling the story through the eyes of the escapee, but he also keeps us grounded by noting when things don't add up or when the story has changed over time. It's not just an emotional punch to the gut. It's factual.

What didn’t you like about Blaine Harden’s performance?

Well, he's a better writer than narrator. He had little inflection in his voice. But no worries. He's a great writer!

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

You need to understand North Korea

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Christopher Dons
  • 2012-07-14

One tough listen but a story everyone should hear

What did you love best about Escape from Camp 14?

The no frills, matter-of-factness with which the details of life in a labor camp are laid out gave it a gut-wrenching punch thats difficult to describe. There were some chapters I had to stop in the middle of just to fathom how hellish and how 'other' reality is for this country. Some images and scenes will be forever burned into memory. The comparison this book made that has yet to leave me now months after reading this is that concentration camps in Nazi Germany, in many cases (Aushwitz for example) were open for only 3 years. These North Korean labor camps have been running for 50 years, starving entire generations and in some ways creating even more insidious torture for people who are born, raised and die there without ever knowing a different life. You cannot read this book and keep your world view intact, it will be changed.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Shin of course was a captivating character. A balanced portrayal of a life scarred in so many ways and yet resilient. You want to hug him, hate him, cry for him, sometimes all at the same time.

Which character – as performed by Blaine Harden – was your favorite?

The absence of dramatic effects, almost like a black and white film vs an over the top computer generated film give the facts this story roll out a piercing quality that pokes all the way to the reader's soul. Seriously, I did have to stop and digest some of the scenes and ask myself how far can humanity really go when turned on itself.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful