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.
As a lieutenant colonel in the North Korean army, Kim Yong enjoyed unprecedented privilege in a society that closely monitored its citizens. He owned an imported car and drove it freely throughout the country. He also encountered corruption at all levels, whether among party officials or Japanese trade partners, and took note of the illicit benefits that were awarded to some and cruelly denied to others.
When accusations of treason stripped Kim Yong of his position, the loose distinction between those who prosper and those who suffer under Kim Jong-il became painfully clear. Kim Yong was thrown into a world of violence and terror, condemned to camp No. 14 in Hamkyeong province, North Korea's most notorious labor camp. As he worked a constant shift 2,400 feet underground, daylight became Kim's new luxury; as the months wore on, he became intimately acquainted with political prisoners, subhuman camp guards, and an apocalyptic famine that killed millions.
After years of meticulous planning, and with the help of old friends, Kim escaped and came to the United States via China, Mongolia, and South Korea. Presented here for the first time in its entirety, his story not only testifies to the atrocities being committed behind North Korea's wall of silence but also illuminates the daily struggle to maintain dignity and integrity in the face of unbelievable hardship. Like the work of Solzhenitsyn, this rare portrait tells a story of resilience as it reveals the dark forms of oppression, torture, and ideological terror at work in our world today.
Born in the 1970s, Lucia Jang grew up in a common, rural North Korean household—her parents worked hard, she bowed to a photo of Kim Il-Sung every night, and the family scraped by on rationed rice and a small garden. However, there is nothing common about Jang. She is a woman of great emotional depth, courage, and resilience.
Happy to serve her country, Jang worked in a factory as a young woman. There, a man she thought was courting her raped her. Forced to marry him when she found herself pregnant, she continued to be abused by him. She managed to convince her family to let her return home, only to have her in-laws and parents sell her son without her knowledge for 300 won and two bars of soap. They had not wanted another mouth to feed.
By now it was the beginning of the famine of the 1990s that resulted in more than one million deaths. Driven by starvation—her family’s as well as her own—Jang illegally crossed the river to better-off China to trade goods. She was caught and imprisoned twice, pregnant the second time. She knew that, to keep the child, she had to leave North Korea. In a dramatic escape, she was smuggled with her newborn to China, fled to Mongolia under gunfire, and finally found refuge in South Korea before eventually settling in Canada.
With so few accounts by North Korean women and those from its rural areas, Jang's fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way to make their voices known.
By the time she was eleven years old, Eunsun's father and grandparents had died of starvation, and Eunsun was in danger of the same. Finally, her mother decided to escape North Korea with Eunsun and her sister, not knowing that they were embarking on a journey that would take them nine long years to complete. Before finally reaching South Korea and freedom, Eunsun and her family would live homeless, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, survive a North Korean labor camp, and cross the deserts of Mongolia on foot.
Now, Eunsun is sharing her remarkable story to give voice to the tens of millions of North Koreans still suffering in silence. Told with grace and courage, her memoir is a riveting exposé of North Korea's totalitarian regime and, ultimately, a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
That modest desire led her to a political activism fueled by the fearless idealism of the young. Her parents begged her to be prudent, but even they could not have imagined the horrors she faced in prison. She underwent psychological and physical torture, hanging on to sanity by scratching messages to fellow prisoners on the latrine door. She fought despair by recalling her idyllic childhood in a sprawling and affectionate family that prized tolerance and freedom of thought. After a show trial, Ghahramani was driven deep into the desert outside Tehran, uncertain if she was to be executed or freed. There she was abandoned to begin the long walk back to reclaim herself. In prose of astonishing dignity and force, Ghahramani recounts the ways in which power seduces and deforms.
A richly textured memoir that celebrates a triumph of the individual over the state, My Life as a Traitor is an affecting addition to the literature of struggle and dissent.