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.
I honestly think this book is the modern day Night. It’s just as harrowing a story and is something that needs to be talked about and pushed into the public eye more. I’m sat here worried about Brexit but at the end of the day, I’m going to have my family, food and a place to live – millions of people living in North Korea have none of these things. I know you can’t always compare your situation to situations such as this but it puts things into perspective and makes you realise just how easy you have it.
There are a few reviews of this that talk about how the book is all pain and misery, which is certainly true, but they talk about that in a negative way. I’m not sure what those people were expecting to read when they picked up this novel about an escapee of North Korea? Admittedly there isn’t a whole lot of resolution to the end of this book but I don’t think one man’s story of death and starvation could be anything other than pain and misery. I personally think this book was a courageous move on Ishikawa’s part and informs a new generation of the horrors of North Korea.
There’s not a lot I can say about this book other than it’s a truly haunting memoir that needs to be experienced firsthand. It’s a relatively short book but it drops us right into the middle of a modern-day nightmare that needs to be heard. This book has left a mark on me and it’s not something I’m ever going to forget reading. It’s brutal, dark, open, and honest, and it’s worth reading.
Reading books like this always makes me think about human right violations, not just in North Korea, but all over the world and I wish that I could do more to help those in need. I donate monthly to Amnesty International, if you have any spare money, any number of human rights charities are amazing causes to give to and aim to help people like Masaji Ishikawa.