There are quite a few memoirs written by the North Korean defectors. And A River in Darkness happens to be one of them.
But what makes A River in Darkness different is that it’s not a story about a North Korean who managed to escape from the communist country.
Instead, A River In Darkness is a story about a Japanese man who escaped from North Korea. It’s something that I consider unheard of whenever a story about the North Korean defectors popped up.
What A River in Darkness is all about
Here’s the book description for A River in Darkness that I got from Amazon.
An Amazon Charts Most Read and Most Sold book.
The harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.
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.
What do you think about this memoir? Does the book description is intriguing enough for you to pick this book?
Why I pick this book
I admit that my curiosity about life in North Korea is the very reason why I picked this book. Just like most people, I only heard about life in North Korea from the media and not so much from the people who really did live there.
Since I don’t know any North Korean defectors personally, I find that this book is the closest thing I can get.
Well, it’s better to hear the story about life in North Korea from someone who used to live there, right?
Another reason why I pick this book is that the book was on sale on Amazon at that time.
Yes, I love bargain. If only I can get the same deals for manga and light novels.
What I didn’t expect when I read A River in Darkness
While I find the book enjoyable to read because of how detailed the author described his life in North Korea, I also noticed quite a few things that I find eye-opening.
Or at the very least, they’re something that didn’t cross my mind until I read this book.
Here are some of the things that I find eye-opening from this book.
Your race decides your fate
At first, I thought that being Japanese in a place like North Korea doesn’t make much difference.
Well, that doesn’t seem the case based on the author’s experience.
In North Korea, they see Japanese as a race below them. Thus, the author and his siblings are being treated like scum only because they were Japanese.
Yes, racism also happens in the totalitarian regime. And it’s far worst than what we’ve ever seen.
There’s no such thing as equal opportunities in the totalitarian regime
In the free economy, everyone has an equal opportunity to receive an education. It’s thanks to the education that many people are able to escape poverty and change their life for the better.
But that’s not the case in North Korea. When the author told his teacher that he would work hard so then he would be able to enter university and change his family’s life for the better, he got a snicker from the teacher instead.
It seemed that only a certain group of people were only able to enter the university. So, the chances for someone like him to enter the university were zero no matter how hard he worked. And it didn’t help that he was Japanese.
In North Korea, it doesn’t mean much whether you excel in your study or not. If you don’t come from a well-known and influential family, none of the opportunities will ever come to you.
It’s easier for the jealousy to go out of control
When you believe that everyone is equal in everything in North Korea, it means that everyone should be the same. It shouldn’t be anything more or anything less.
It’s nothing unusual for a human being to feel jealous over other people when other people have something that they want. But the belief that everything should be equal can lead people to do something unthinkable. And it’s all because of the jealousy that drives their action.
It’s because of the jealousy that the house that the author lived with his family when they arrived in North Korea was burned down only because their house was slightly better than everyone else.
It’s rare for something like this to happen in the free economy. But in the totalitarian regime, it’s either you’re the same as everyone else or far worst than everyone else.
If you’re better than them even if it’s just a little, they don’t hesitate to bring you down.
Who should read this book
If you prefer to learn about the life in North Korea from the people who used to live there, then you should get this book.
I’m sure that some of you will say that the book doesn’t seem to reflect the current situation in North Korea that much since the current situation is nothing like what he experienced during Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il era.
But according to the story by the current defectors, the situation in North Korea isn’t that much different from 10-20 years ago.
So, the book is still relevant despite the author’s experience during Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il era.
Where to buy the book
As always, you can get this book as an ebook or in print on Amazon. You can get the book right here:
If you sign up with Kindle Unlimited, you can also read this book for free.
Live outside of the US and want to get the Kindle version of the book? Here’s the blog post that tells you how to buy the Kindle book regardless of where you live.
Over to you
What do you think about A River in Darkness? Will you get this book after reading my thought about the book? Share with me in the comment below.