A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa (Mini Review)

I’ve read several memoirs about North Korea. Some by visitors, and a couple by escapees. Ishikawa’s story is unique not only in the circumstances but in the telling. He was born in Japan to a Korean father and a Japanese mother. During the economic downturn following WW2, N Korea offered a homecoming or repatriation of sorts to peoples who had left for economic reasons. The government lauded its country as a Communist utopia, filled with good jobs and an advanced education system. Ishikawa’s father takes a chance and moves his family back to his homeland.

They find a situation that is far worse than the one they had left. Their daily lives consist of fighting for a pittance of food rations and being discriminated for their Japanese origins. The author was only 13 years old at the time of the move, but he knew enough of the Japanese way of life to see the stark realities he faced in Korea.

Thirty years of living under the regime of Kim Il-sung and his son made life almost unbearable, but a sense of humor and an unbeatable optimism moved Ishikawa forward. This is the strength of this narrative. For each pushback, he strides forward and eventually returns to Japan, his place of birth.

An unusual perspective as a Japanese-Korean man living in the heart of North Korean propaganda and Ishikawa’s courageous attitude make this book a very inspiring read.

15 thoughts on “A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa (Mini Review)

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  1. Great review. I really enjoyed (that’s got to be the wrong word – appreciated?) this book. I agree with you that this one is unique compared with other North Korea memoirs, there was something even more impacting about it, I thought. I loved his sense of humor too. Great to hear your thoughts on it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow this sounds like a compelling read. I have watched several interviews and a documentary with folks that had escaped from North Korea and it’s an interesting thing to see how they compare the world outside there to inside. I think I’ll keep this one in mind. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

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