Book Review · Nonfiction

A River in Darkness

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I am sure we’ve all heard how horrible North Korea is to its people. There are a few biographies and accounts out there written by people who have lived and worked in North Korea. I have been meaning to read one, but when I saw A River in Darkness offered for free on my Kindle, I had no excuse not to get it. It was definitely worth more than $0, but it was not an easy read by any means.

Author Masaji Ishikawa was born in Japan from a Japanese mother and a Korean father. After WWII, North Korea claimed that it was on the verge of becoming a utopia. All it needed was some hard working people to live there. The North Korean government offered free housing, jobs, and plentiful food to Koreans stuck in Japan after the war. Masaji’s father, who had been discriminated against during his time in Japan, was excited to go back to his home country. Masaji’s father brought his family to North Korea with the hope of making their lives better, but when they arrived it was clear that North Korea’s advertising was all a lie.

This is such a heartbreaking read. After I finished the book it made me thankful for what I have. It made me also think about how much we take for granted every day. I learned a lot about Japan and North Korea’s histories, what it was like in North Korea over the past 40-50 years, and how North Koreans have struggled with basic needs for decades. This is not a happy book nor does it have a happy ending. It is raw and real. There are a lot of graphic descriptions, but the prose itself is without much beauty. It is fitting for the subject matter. You can feel the frustration, anger, and hopelessness in Ishikawa’s writing, but you can also feel his strength and determination. At the end of the book, Ishikawa says that he was discouraged by others to tell his tale. Somehow he was able to write a book though. After searching the internet, I cannot find any information about Masaji Ishikawa himself, how he is doing now, or if he resolved any of the problems he still had at the end of the book. This was a very short read (~160 pages), but it packed a punch. It was a real eye-opener, and I hope that the author is safe and happy wherever he may be.

 

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