Review: Escape from Camp 14
There’s no denying that this biography does tell an incredible story – and does an excellent job of raising awareness about issues that might not be widely known to many. Blaine Harden tells Shin-Dong-hyuk’s story of his life in a political prison – and it really is life from birth onwards and could have been until death, had it not been for Shin’s incredible escape.
Through this history of Shin’s time in the camp, a picture of a brutal and pitiful existence is built up. Although Harden admits that it’s impossible to fully corroborate the details of Shin’s story, he does call on information from experts, humanitarian campaigners and activists whose knowledge and experiences support Shin’s recollections.
The difficulty in fully embracing this book is that you get the sense that there is a distance between Shin-Dong-hyuk and Blaine Harden that was never quite breached, something Harden himself refers to when he mentions that it was difficult to always trust Shin’s words. Writing anyone’s biography without their full and frank commitment is always going to be difficult and to me it felt like there were many emotional elements of this story that weren’t touched upon.
It is certainly a remarkable read and I have no desire to see someone absolutely strip their soul bare and be caused great pain. Harden does a superb job of putting together the pieces of Shin’s life both in and out of the camp in order to tell his story. If the glue that holds it all together – Shin’s recollections and emotional commitment to the book – is slightly weak at times then perhaps that’s no less than we can expect under the circumstances.