A RIVER IN DARKNESS by Masaji Ishikawa


One Man's Escape from North Korea
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A terrifying true story of life in North Korea.

Ishikawa was born in Japan in 1947 to a Korean father and Japanese mother. His father taught him that North Korea’s Kim Il sung was an “invincible general made of steel.” In 1958, the leader urged all Koreans to return home, proclaiming, “North Korea is a paradise on earth!” In 1960, Ishikawa and his family settled in the North Korean village of Dong Chong-ri as part of a mass repatriation campaign. Everyone had to join the Worker’s Party and pledge allegiance to Kim. The author learned in school that “thought was not free,” and no one could question the wisdom of Kim. He “played along” but knew he was now part of a “pseudo-religious cult.” Working on a farm as part of the Youth League, he learned that the sole cause of any failure was a total lack of respect for Kim and the party. Everyone was brainwashed. Despite being an excellent student, he was Japanese, the “lowest of the low,” and therefore condemned to the “very bottom of society.” As he notes, the farming process was “staggeringly crude and idiotic.” Food was taken away from them, and old people worked until they died. Poor workers went to concentration camps or were executed: “So many lives wasted.” After an arranged marriage, Ishikawa had a son in 1972. His mother died, and he carried her corpse on his back and buried her on a mountainside. His family suffered horribly, reduced to eating weeds and tree bark. It was even worse after Kim Jong il became leader. After 36 years and in utter despair, Ishikawa risked his life and, in darkness, crossed the Yalu River into China. He hoped to work in Japan and send money to his family, but by then, he was Korean, and the transition was extremely difficult.

Told in simple prose, this is a shocking and devastating tale of a country’s utter contempt for its citizens.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5039-3690-4
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2017


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