A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
Published by AmazonCrossing on January 1, 2018 (first published 2000)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 174
Format: eBook
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four-half-stars

The harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.

A River in Darkness is a heart-breaking story. Ishikawa went form a childhood in Japan where he didn’t fit in because he was half-Korean to North Korea where he was one of the lowest of the low. He tells his story frankly, without sentimentality, but it’s full of misery, hunger, desperation. He tells of living conditions that I can’t even imagine. I knew North Korea is not a good country, but we don’t get to see this side of it often. We don’t see how the people live, and die. We know that life in the totalitarian regime is tough, but Ishikawa let’s us see the brainwashing, the untenable choices that have to be made. The corruption and domination affect every aspect of life.

A River in Darkness was way out of my comfort zone, but I am definitely glad I picked it up. I got sucked into Ishikawa’s story. I wish it had a happy ending, though. He does escape back to Japan, as the title suggests, but he isn’t able to save his family. And the life he finds in Japan isn’t easy, but at least he’s not starving. It’s a sad book, all around, but Ishikawa keeps trying, keeps going.

About Masaji Ishikawa

Masaji Ishikawa

Born in 1947 in Kawasaki, Japan, Masaji Ishikawa moved with his parents and three sisters to North Korea in 1960 at the age of thirteen, where he lived until his escape in 1996. He currently resides in Japan.

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