Escape from Camp 14
This true story of life in a North Korean prison camp may be the most disturbing book that you will ever read.
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At 4, he witnessed his first execution. At 6, he watched a classmate beaten to death for having five grains of corn in her pocket. At 14, he survived heinous torture, then witnessed his mother being hung and his brother shot. At 22, he lost a finger as punishment for dropping a sewing machine.Skip to next paragraph
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At 23, on January 2, 2005, Shin climbed over the electrified corpse of his fellow escapee, and began a labyrinthine journey toward freedom. His own slight body bears innumerable scars of mutilation. When he escaped, he knew virtually nothing of the outside world, yet he miraculously traversed North Korea, China, South Korea, and finally made his way to the United States.
To call Shin’s adjustment to his new life "difficult" is grave understatement: “’I escaped physically … I haven’t escaped psychologically.’” Defectors understandably suffer from a myriad of clinical symptoms including post-traumatic syndrome, paranoia, paralyzing survival guilt. Shin struggles at an even more basic level: “’I am evolving from being an animal ... [b]ut it is going very, very slowly.’”
As horrific as Shin’s ordeals have been, “’Shin had a relatively comfortable life by the standards of other children in the camps,’” a former camp guard and driver told Harden. Others have endured “worse hardship.” Compounding such stomach-churning news is the realization that “[t]he camps have barely pricked the world’s collective conscience.” They hold 200,000 prisoners according to the US State Department and several human rights groups; they have lasted twice as long as the Soviet Gulag, and 12 times longer than the Nazi concentration camps. Google Earth provides high-resolution satellite photographs “to anyone with an Internet connection.” Amnesty International has documented new construction in the camps as recently as 2011.
A book without parallel, “Escape from Camp 14” is a riveting nightmare that bears witness to the worst inhumanity, an unbearable tragedy magnified by the fact that the horror continues at this very moment without an end in sight. Inspired by Harden's front-page Washington Post story in December, 2008 – the article from which this book originated – a reader addresses a chilling question to all of us: “’High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t bomb all the rail lines to Hitler’s camps … Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il’s camps, and did nothing.’”