Summary

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.
©2000 Masaji Ishikawa; translation © 2018 by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown (P)2018 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Suswati on 17-01-18

An utterly bleak story of an invisible man

Masaji Ishikawa's story is truly soul-crushing, the level of trauma is beyond comprehension, therefore read it with caution.

Ishikawa describes his life under the North Korean regime as gruelling, horrifically terrifying, and there are some completely hopeless moments where you think why even bother anymore.

His journey begins in Japan, the child of a Japanese mother and Korean father, he was forced at a young age to move to North Korea under the pretence of "returning" to his motherland, though he never believed so. His father, an originally extremely violent man became pacified as he realised the perilous situation he bought his family into. But they soon face the truth and brutality of their circumstances.

The narrator defects at a much later stage in life, living around 30 years under the dictatorship, but leaving his family behind. He questions whether he made the right decision in the end as the consequences are revealed and the reader is left writhing in agony at his pain.

It is not an easy read, but it is important to understand the level of complexity and the reality of the situation. An absolute must read.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By evosticky on 08-04-18

Shocking revelation!

Finished this book very quickly as I couldn't leave it. Heart-rending account of a father's stark choice to try and ensure his family's survival.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By C. F. Gagnon on 31-05-18

Heartbreaking

I just finished this book, and I immediately Googled the author. There are no stories about him other than this book, and I wonder if he has made any money from this book because I personally got it because it was on the Amazon free day. The story is engrossing and heartbreaking, and the picture of humanity here is dark and powerful. All I can think about is hoping that some sunshine comes into his life and some news of his family reaches him in time to have them reunited or to at least help them get out somehow. I am so grateful to be able to read his account and his memoir. I would recommend this book to anyone if only to convey some picture of what life is truly like in North Korea.

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45 of 45 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Wayne on 18-07-18

North Korea horror - non-fiction

I listened to and reviewed In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park six months ago. A RIVER IN DARKNESS is a very different story but like In Order to Live it is a damning account of the government of and living condition in North Korea. A River in Darkness also covers a much longer period of time and there is no happy ending; there is only continuing pain, suffering and death from brutality and starvation. Listening is painful, but also worthwhile.

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70 of 72 people found this review helpful

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