Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
Now with a new foreword A New York Times bestseller, 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 Donghyuk 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.
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Preface: A Teachable Moment
How did Shin's education differ from that of most North Koreans?
The preface of this book throws us right into the action without preamble. The term for this is "in medias res." Watch the video below for explanation of this literary device. Then think about the effect this might have on the rest of the book. (This annotation contains a video)
Introduction: Never Heard the Word “Love”
Shin's original name was Shin In Geun. His new name reflects his new identity; North Korean names are not hyphenated, but South Korean names are.
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Use this feature to help you choose the best synonym for the word antipodes.
The link below is the Google Earth footage of camp 14, the place where Shin was imprisoned. (This annotation has embedded rich content)
Which labor structure do these camps most resemble?
The practice of using repression to prevent political implosion is a recurring theme in this book. Pay attention to the role of the North Korean government in using coercive measures to maintain control.
What does this simile suggest about Harden's role and Shin's reactions during their interviews?
Blaine Harden spends several paragraphs discussing the veracity (truthfulness) of Shin's accounts. Harden's open discussion of this topic helps strengthen the honest, frank tone of the narrative, making the story even more believable.
Why haven't the human rights issues of the North Korean camps been addressed by the international community?
Chapter 1: The Boy Who Ate His Mother’s Lunch
Making this sentence its own paragraph is a structural decision that emphasizes its importance. What does this line tell us about Shin's childhood, his character, and his relationship with his mother?
What are three ways that the structure and rules of the camp undermined family unity and affection?
Note the irony in "volunteering" for something that is required.
Shin equates happiness with a full belly. How does this compare to your idea of happiness?
It is important to recognize that Harden's book does more than detail the life of a single man; it also attempts to educate the reader about North Korean society, economics, and government.
Chapter 2: School Days
This chapter begins in the middle of a scene without previous explanation. This structural device is called
In order to preserve the factual accuracy of his account, Harden tries to differentiate between fact, speculation, and opinion. Which line below reflects Harden's attempts to clarify that the idea is an opinion?
Try to consider what implicit goals the school may have had. What were the expectations for the students if they were never taught about the outside world?
What was the primary goal of schooling in the camps?
Chapter 3: The Upper Crust
A caste system is a way of ordering society by class. Higher-level castes receive more respect and privileges than lower-level castes. Membership in a particular caste is usually determined by birth.
Based on the highlighted text, how might Shin's teacher best be characterized?
Summarize the distinctions between the three castes in North Korea.
The image below is of modern Pyongyang. The prominent, pointy building in the background is the Ryugyong Hotel. Construction of the hotel began in 1987, but the hotel has yet to open for business. (This annotation contains an image)
What role do the stories of Kim Kwan Jin and the guard, An Myeong Chul, play in Harden’s account?
The picture below shows the three leaders in the Kim dynasty: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and King Jong Eun (from left to right). (This annotation contains an image)
This painting, featuring North Korean leaders Kim Jong-il (right) and his father (center), was part of an exhibition of North Korean state art entitled Flowers of Kim Il Sung in 2010. Study the way the Kim family is depicted in this artwork. (This annotation contains an image)
Compare the painting in the previous annotation to another instance of North Korean propaganda mentioned in this chapter.
Based on the details in this chapter, how is the North Korean government depicted?
Chapter 4: Mother Tries to Escape
It is interesting to read Harden's 2008 account of Shin's life. The full article he references from the Washington Post is available at the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on Shin's false story and subsequent correction of it, what can be said about his character?
Chapter 5: Mother Tries to Escape, Version Two
Food holds both physical and symbolic importance to Shin. While it sustains him and brings comfort to his hollow stomach, it also represents approval, privilege, and reward. Below is a picture of the cabbage soup Shin ate often in Camp 14. (This annotation contains an image)
How did Shin's upbringing prepare him to betray his mother and brother to the guards? Discuss two or three specific aspects of his education and/or family life in your answer.
Chapter 6: This Son of a Bitch Won’t Do
Although Harden is factually correct to identify Shin's existence as an "unforgivable crime" by North Korean standards, his words may strike the reader as deliberately ironic, almost sarcastic. Shin himself committed no crime. His "crime" was simply being born.
In the highlighted passage, the tone is ________, while the mood is _________.
Watch the video below about tone and mood to help you distinguish between Harden's voice and his intended effect on the reader. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter 7: The Sun Shines Even on Mouse Holes
What does the highlighted adage (and chapter title) mean? How does it apply to Shin's life either in the prison or in the camp in general?
Pay attention to the important emotional foundation Shin's time with Uncle creates. As you keep reading, consider how this experience may benefit Shin in the future.
Chapter 8: Avoiding Mother’s Eyes
Recall that Shin's father was not raised in the camps and was born before the Kim dynasty took power. What does his caustic tone reveal about his beliefs? Use the dictionary feature to look up "caustic" if you need to.
Chapter 9: Reactionary Son of a Bitch
Despite his months of torture, Shin's treatment may actually have been better than that received by other children of camp offenders.
Shin's time in prison brought about an important internal character change. How did his imprisonment alter him? Support your answer by citing text from the highlighted passage.
Through his exposé on Shin and North Korea's oppressive structures, Harden reveals a number of ironies. Watch the video below for an explanation of irony. (This annotation contains a video)
Which statement best captures the irony conveyed in this discussion of Shin's low expectations?
Chapter 10: Working Man
Revisit the Google image of Camp 14 to identify the Taedong River. Follow the river as it curves around to the right; a man-made dam is clearly visible. (This annotation has embedded rich content)
The satellite image below is from 2011. It shows a darkened North Korea, with only a small cluster of bright light. This cluster is Pyongyang. (This annotation contains an image)
North Korea's ideology that national pride means "displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, and thus solving one's own problems" is ironic given the nation's dependence on foreign aid for food, fertilizer, and other necessities. What might Harden’s purpose be in pointing out so many ironies in Korean society?
"Sine qua non" is a Latin phrase referring to something that is absolutely necessary and indispensable.
Follow the link below and watch the video clip at the top of the page. (You will probably want to watch in full screen size in order to read subtitles.) This page, which is maintained by the well-known human rights group Amnesty International, is linked in this book’s appendix as one of Harden’s sources. Look for similarities between Camp Yodok (described in the video) and Camp 14. (This annotation contains a link)
How does the Amnesty International video both corroborate Shin's story and supply additional information about life in the camps?
Chapter 11: Napping on the Farm
For information on the difference between capitalism and communism, visit the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Explain how North Korea's famine helped to bring small signs of capitalism into the North Korean economy.
How can the structure of this chapter best be described?
Chapter 12: Sewing and Snitching
Notice the way Harden tries to maintain a measured, neutral tone as he describes this disturbing incident. He does this by stating facts and refraining from biased language, speculation, or personal commentary.
It is interesting to note Shin's rejection of food here. For most of his life, he has been driven by his stomach, yet his refusal to take his father's rice is proof that he can summon feelings stronger than hunger: in this case, anger.
According to John Adams, what is the relationship between happiness and virtue? How does this vision of society differ from that of North Korea?
Shin’s story is a prime example of the way a society’s structure can shape its citizens. Fearing constant punishment, Shin and his coworkers become cruel, dishonest, and self-serving. The Founding Fathers of the United States identified this connection between governmental structure and the behavior of its citizens. Follow the link below to read a selection of U.S. president John Adams’ “Thoughts on Government,” written in 1776. Begin reading at the fourth paragraph (“We ought to consider…”) and end after the ninth paragraph (“…most generous models of government”). (This annotation contains a link)
Chapter 13: Deciding Not to Snitch
"Gustatory" is a great word that means "having to do with tasting." Can you see a connection between the words "gustatory" and "disgusting"?
What change takes place in Shin as a result of his association with Park?
Park's love of song and Shin's resistance to it reflect both men's upbringings and character. Singing suggests an appreciation of beauty and the ability to make and express emotional connections. In his life on the outside, Park was able to appreciate beauty and develop normal human emotions, while Shin has not.
Which quality does NOT describe Park?
Chapter 14: Preparing to Run
Based on Shin's own experience when his mother and brother tried to escape, what will most likely be a consequence of Shin's escape - whether he succeeds or fails?
Given the likely consequences of his escape, do you think Shin was right to attempt it? Explain your answer with specific reference to Shin's father.
Chapter 15: The Fence
The picture below shows the lasting scars from the burns Shin suffered during his escape. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the purpose of these scientific details?
Chapter 16: Stealing
Throughout the book, Harden has alternated between details of life in Camp 14 and life outside the camp walls. What makes those two approaches useful at this juncture in the book?
Pay attention to Shin's changing ideas of freedom as his time outside the camp goes on.
What is implied by the fact that the survey about the population within North Korea was conducted among refugees inside China?
This policy was intended to help the defectors. It prevents smugglers from demanding all a refugee's money in one lump payment, which might otherwise leave a refugee penniless and homeless in a new country.
Chapter 17: Riding North
In other words, many of these local officials rely on bribes to eke out a living.
In documenting Shin's journey through North Korea, Blaine Harden also informs the reader of the crumbling economy and infrastructure of the insular nation. List five details we learn about North Korea from Shin's experiences outside Camp 14.
For more details on Jenkins, see the 2013 article in The Atlantic, linked below. One of the main topics in the article is Jenkins's discussion of the North Korean spy industry. (This annotation contains a link)
What purpose does Jenkins's story serve in this chapter?
Chapter 18: The Border
The picture below depicts Chinese border guards erecting a wire fence in 2012. The partially frozen Tumen River is visible in the background. (This annotation contains an image)
The phrase "porous border" suggests that travel between North Korea and China is
Seoul is the capital of South Korea. The distance between Pyongyang and Seoul is roughly 120 miles. (This annotation contains an image)
What motivates North Korean border guards to allow people to cross the borders?
Chapter 19: China
Choose the best antonym for the word culled as used in this sentence. Use the dictionary feature if necessary.
At this point, Shin has fully realized his original goal in escaping. He has plenty of food and creature comforts. Will this be enough to satisfy him?
What is the best paraphrase for the highlighted sentence?
Even though Shin has escaped prison in Camp 14, the theme of imprisonment persists in the book. Harden is depicting North Korea itself as a giant prison - one that guards its borders and punishes escapees.
State two of China's motives for desiring a strong North Korea and limited border crossings.
Chapter 20: Asylum
Shin is beginning to realize that freedom carries its own burdens, such as decision-making and self-determination.
North and South Korea are hugely different. This ideological and political split between them goes back to the mid-1900s. At the time of the second World War, Japan ruled Korea. When Japan was defeated in WWII, Korea was divided into two occupied zones, with the north occupied by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States. Tension between these two zones led to the Korean War and an intense antipathy between the two sides. Watch the video below for an overview of the Korean War. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the significance of the 38th parallel?
Below is an image of a typical PC bang. (This annotation contains an image)
What do Shin's reasons for quitting reflect about his changing character and expectations?
Consulates do provide special protections. They act, in a sense, as small pieces of foreign territory within another country. According to Article 22 of The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations: "The premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, are inviolate and must not be entered by the host country except by permission of the head of the mission. Furthermore, the host country must protect the mission from intrusion or damage. The host country must never search the premises, nor seize its documents or property."
Chapter 21: K’Uredit K’adus
Note that Shin's guilt begins to arise only after his basic physical needs are met. Once he is safely in a free country with food and lodging, he is able to look beyond his basic physical needs and attend to his emotional needs for, perhaps, the first time in his life.
This chapter is entitled "K'uredit k'adus." What does this choice of title indicate about this chapter's focus?
This simile is not particularly inspiring. Shin's development in free society is not wondrous and joyful, like a flower bud opening; rather, it is dull and unemotional, like dead cells building up on a fingertip.
What is the best definition for vetted as used in the highlighted sentence?
Chapter 22: South Koreans are Not So Interested
Explain how two character qualities developed in Camp 14 make it difficult for Shin to thrive in South Korea.
To view the endnotes numbered here, click the "C" in the upper lefthand corner, choose "Table of Contents," and scroll down to the "Notes" section.
What is Harden's implication in choosing the words "success-obsessed" and "education-crazed" to describe South Korea?
"Schizophrenia" refers to split personalities. Harden is reinforcing his contention that South Koreans are divided in how to respond to the North.
Chapter 23: U.S.A.
Shin's tendency to avoid direct eye contact is just one of many holdovers from his time in the camps. Prisoners were not permitted to look guards in the eye.
Escape from Camp 14 explores several ways of being imprisoned: first Harden described Camp 14 itself, then he focused on North Korea as a whole. Now, he suggests that Shin's imprisonment persists even outside of North Korea. In what sense is Shin a prisoner of his own mind and/or his own habits?
Note the disparity between others' opinions of Shin and Shin's own self-assessment. At what point would you consider Shin to be fully integrated into society? When others accept him or when he accepts himself?
In an interview on the radio show "All Things Considered," Blaine Harden explained that Shin “hates to talk about this [his betrayal of his family]. And he’s now been out of North Korea for about seven years and he now starts to feel guilty. But at the time, that was not part of the way he saw the world and that is part of the agony of being free for him … to have this sort of ex post facto understanding of what it means to be a human being and to try to relate that to what he once was.” http://www.npr.org/2012/03/29/149061951/escape-from-camp-14-inside-north-koreas-gulagHow has Shin's idea of what it means to be human changed over the course of his life?
It seems contradictory that though Shin's past in Camp 14 is the source of his struggles, he finds comfort in returning to patterns from the camp, such as sleeping on a bare floor.
How does the purpose of Escape from Camp 14 compare to the purpose of The Declaration of Independence?
Consider the well-known quotation below, excerpted from The Declaration of Independence. The purpose of the declaration was to declare American independence from Britain and explain to foreign nations the reasons for this separation, by asserting the natural rights of men and delineating the offenses of the British government. Can "Escape from Camp 14" be viewed as Shin's declaration of independence? (This annotation contains an image)
Epilogue: No Escape
Consider the meaning of this epilogue title. From what can Shin not escape?
How has Shin's emotional instability affected his career?
Shin Dong-hyuk gives a presentation on his life in Camp 14 in the picture below. (This annotation contains an image)
Although Shin's church presentation in this epilogue is not the last chronological detail of Shin's life up to the point of publication, Harden chooses this story to end his book. What is the most likely reason for choosing this event to end on?
To see additional pictures of Shin Dong-hyuk, go to the "Table of Contents" and scroll to the end of the "Notes" section. To read more about Blaine Harden and the awareness brought about by "Escape from Camp 14" visit the website below. (This annotation contains a link)