Review: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

This isn’t a novel, it’s a biography, and I don’t usually read biographies. But having finished this one a few hours after I started reading it, then it’s fair to say that I’ll be reading a lot more.


Escape from Camp 14 tells the amazing story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a Korean  born with an automatic life sentence within the walls of the country’s most notorious political prison. The author, brilliantly, details the inhuman treatment the prisoners receive,  and reflects poignantly on how the existence of such places affects the people of North Korea as a whole.  A brief history of the country and the conditions the population live under (fear, starvation) is weaved throughout the book, giving the reader a clear context through which to follow Shin’s story.

Make no mistake, this is a harsh read that, at times, beggars belief: the torture, both mental and physical;  the systematic stripping of  another human being’s humanity from birth until they die from exhaustion or starvation – it’s all here, laid out in a plain, no-nonsense style that unapologetically leaves nothing to the imagination.

The book follows Shin from his birth to his miraculous escape, then traces his difficult adjustment to freedom beyond the walls of Camp 14. In many ways, this is just as harrowing as reading about his time inside the prison, giving an idea what it is like for people who emerge into the world following a long and unjust incarceration.

An excellent book, thoroughly recommended. Five out of five (I’d give it six if I could).