Reviewed by Alyssa Katanic

“Wow!” “Intense!” Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14 is definitely both, and expertly written. Harden is an experienced journalist who has written for the Washington Post, The New York Times, and has worked as a reporter for PBS Front Line (among many other excellent credentials). He doesn’t leave journalism behind as he develops the story of Shin In Geun, the only known person to have been born in and escaped from North Korea’s toughest political labor camp.

As so many average Americans, I have to admit that I am very “my little corner of the world” focused – but I am nosey! Thus, I love the opportunity to take a look at other cultures via well written books. Sometimes these stories can offer us pictures that are hard to look at, and that makes them all the more important to face. This is true of Escape from Camp 14.

Shin In Geun saw many horrible acts of violence and killings from an early age; in fact, his first memory is that of witnessing an execution at the age of four. Until he escaped in his early twenties, Shin’s life was focused on finding enough food, working to keep out from under the guard’s club, and snitching on fellow prisoners in order to gain favor (aka more food). Being born there, he knew no other life, and sought no other life, until an older man entered the prison and told him of life (and FOOD) on the other side of the fence. Since escaping, it has been very hard for him to adjust to “being human” and gaining emotion and love for self and others.

With Harden’s vast experience and professionalism in getting the story right, Escape from Camp 14 not only tells the story of Shin, but also the story of North Korea. The entire country has become like a prison for its people, and the risks and adapting issues that defectors from North Korea face are immense. Though some scenes may be hard for us to face, Escape from Camp 14, as a whole, is an important look at the lives of those who are living it right now on the other side of this small world.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Alyssa is a wife and stay at home, homeschooling mother of five, with two boxers, two cats, a soft shelled turtle named after Bob the Builder, and 7 frogs (admittedly a homeschooling project gone froggy). In all her spare time, she loves to read and believes that there is no such thing as having too many books!

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.