Current Study Guide


Faith Lutheran Church Book Club

2726 W. Market St. Fairlawn, Ohio  44333



Meetings in Choir Room at both 2 and 7:00 pm 


Discussion Questions for Oct. 17, 2017

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Hardin



1.Based on what you read in Escape from Camp 14, how would you characterize the concept of “family” for North Koreans in the state gulag system? For North Koreans in general? Bear in mind that historically the family unit is the building block of stable societies in East Asia, so how do you assess the ruling Kim family regime’s policies in this regard?


2.  What is your point of view on the role that education plays in a society? What, then, do you derive as the consequences for North Korea of its approach to educating its citizens? What do you surmise is the future role of North Koreans like Shin, who were born into political imprisonment.


3. Shin eventually learns that his status as a political prisoner stems from the defection of an uncle from the North Korean Army in the chaos of the Korean War of 1950- 53. Analyze how the successive regimes of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un were able to establish this type of system and then maintain it without greater civil unrest.


4. Quite understandably, food is perpetually at the center of Shin’s thinking while in Camp 14, and while working his way to and through China. It is notable that it remains at the heart of his activities even once he reaches the plentiful food supplies of South Korea and the United States. Compare and contrast the role that food plays in the two halves of Shin’s life: the first while he is imprisoned, and the second once he becomes free. n “


5. Consider the first part of Shin’s journey to freedom, from breaking out of Camp 14 to reaching the border with China. It would seem that the state did not initiate much of a manhunt, and that locals in the areas he passed through weren’t particularly wary of an escaped prisoner. What are we to make of that?


6.  Using textual examples, what are some of the specific ways that prisoners in Camp 14 fought back against the North Korean state? How about North Koreans not in the political prisoner camps? To what extent are these acts of resistance effective?


7. From his first steps beyond the electrified fence beyond Camp 14 through his work as a human rights activist in the United States and South Korea, what evidence from the text might you use to support an argument that Shin doesn’t completely escape being a political prisoner? Why would you, or would you not, support such an argument? 


8. What do you make of the transition programs that the government in South Korea has established for North Korean defectors, such as the Hanawon resettlement center and the stipends and training provided to those who have escaped? Based on your reading of Shin’s experiences, what praise or critiques would you offer for them?


9. Why does Shin struggle so mightily with taking on what he considers his calling for the future, as an advocate in the fight for human rights in North Korea? 

10. The event that more than any other defines the book is the execution of Shin’s mother and brother, and his role in it. The moral crisis it creates for Shin is elaborated well by Harden. Discuss for a bit the moral crisis that it creates for international leaders, human rights activists, and for us, the readers.