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

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North KoreaA River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the true story of Masaji Ishikawa, born in Japan to a Japanese mom, and an abusive Korean father, who was lured by false promises of a utopian society to move his family from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was only 13 years old. The family became part of the lowest social caste, and all of them suffered immensely under the brutal totalitarian regime.

I’ve read some tough stories about people with very difficult lives, but the abject poverty experienced by Ishikawa completely unsettled me.

I’m shocked and horrified by the ways in which North Koreans were (and probably still are) forced to suffer. The constant indoctrination didn’t surprise me, but the sheer stupidity and cruelty behind running an entire country and people into the ground was infuriating. It’s so hard for me to wrap my mind around how an entire nation of people can be abused and kept down in such a way. They’re so far down, they don’t ever even consider rising up, probably because any attempt to fight back against the system only leads to more sorrow and loss.

If you had asked me to point fingers at which countries are the most guilty of crimes against their own people, North Korea probably wouldn’t have made my top 5 list before reading this book. I mean, on some level, I knew things weren’t great in North Korea, but I had no idea how bad it really was.

My only minor complaint is that I wanted more. More depth, more explanations, more emotions, more stories, and even more information on aspects of Ishikawa’s daily life (and especially into his different relationships). I suspect some of what I really wanted to know was left out of this story or glossed over just due to sheer cultural differences. I’m sure it would have been deemed inappropriate for him to speak more in depth about either of his wives, and specifics of his relationships with them, but I definitely wanted to know more about all of that.

This is not a story of hope, so what’s beautiful about it is the honest way in which the story is told.

Book 51 read in 2018

Pages: 172

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