Escape from Camp 14

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Escape from Camp 14 Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Blaine Harden's Escape from Camp 14. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Blaine Harden

Blaine Harden attended Gonzaga University and afterwards became a writer for The Washington Post. For twenty-eight years, Harden traveled to Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe on behalf of the Post; he also reported for The New York Times. He published his first book, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, in 1990, and six years later, he released his second book, A River Lost, about the environmental degradation of the Columbia River. Harden has written about life in contemporary North Korea, and his book Escape From Camp 14 prompted a widespread discussion about the North Korean prison camp system. He currently resides in Seattle with his wife and two children.
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Historical Context of Escape from Camp 14

The most important historical event Escape From Camp 14 discusses is the rise of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea. In the 1940s, a civil war broke out in Korea between Communist forces backed by China and pro-capitalist forces backed by the United States. In the ensuing Korean War, Communist forces gained control over Korea north of the 38th parallel. The new North Korean state was ostensibly Communist, but quickly morphed into a cult of personality state structured around Kim Il Sung, the popular leader of the Worker’s Party of Korea. As Kim’s reign went on, the North Korean state became increasingly repressive. In the 1990s, Kim was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il. During this period, North Korea was plagued by famine, partly due to the incompetence of the North Korean state and its investments in a nuclear weapons program. At present, North Korea is ruled by Kim Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Eun. The country is notorious for its repressive policies and cult-like worship of its leaders. Despite being dead, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung are still the official leaders of North Korea, along with Kim Jong Eun (the journalist Christopher Hitchens proposed calling North Korea a “necrocracy” for this reason).

Other Books Related to Escape from Camp 14

Escape From Camp 14 alludes to several non-fiction works on a similar theme, including Night (1960) by Elie Wiesel. In his memoir of his time in a concentration camp, Wiesel talks about having to sacrifice his moral principles while yearning for his early life with his family. Harden’s point is that Night is emblematic of the “prison camp memoir” genre, which usually revolves around a troubled young character who experiences great suffering and then transcends it. Shin, the protagonist of Escape From Camp 14, experiences no such transcendence, however—as the book ends, he’s still consumed with guilt and self-loathing.
Key Facts about Escape from Camp 14
  • Full Title: Escape From Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
  • When Written: 2011-2012
  • Where Written: Seattle, New York, Seoul
  • When Published: Fall 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary nonfiction
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography
  • Setting: Camp 14 in North Korea, various North Korea cities near the Chinese border, Shanghai, Seoul, Los Angeles
  • Climax: Shin and Park escape from Camp 14
  • Antagonist: The North Korean police state, run by Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Eun
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient, with many first person asides from Blaine Harden, the author

Extra Credit for Escape from Camp 14

To believe or not to believe? In 2014, following the release of a series of North Korean propaganda videos that contradicted some of Shin’s story, Shin admitted that he’d lied or distorted the truth about his early life—meaning that large chunks of Escape From Camp 14 are false. Harden has yet to revise his book, but he’s added a long foreword discussing Shin’s claims, and arguing that readers should continue to trust Shin.

Awards, awards, awards. Harden has won an impressive number of awards for reporting throughout his career, including the Ernie Pyle Award, the Livingstone Awards, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors Award.