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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2000 Masaji Ishikawa; translation © 2018 by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown (P)2018 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Heartbreaking

I just finished this book, and I immediately Googled the author. There are no stories about him other than this book, and I wonder if he has made any money from this book because I personally got it because it was on the Amazon free day. The story is engrossing and heartbreaking, and the picture of humanity here is dark and powerful. All I can think about is hoping that some sunshine comes into his life and some news of his family reaches him in time to have them reunited or to at least help them get out somehow. I am so grateful to be able to read his account and his memoir. I would recommend this book to anyone if only to convey some picture of what life is truly like in North Korea.

46 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • Wayne
  • Matthews, NC
  • 07-18-18

North Korea horror - non-fiction

I listened to and reviewed In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park six months ago. A RIVER IN DARKNESS is a very different story but like In Order to Live it is a damning account of the government of and living condition in North Korea. A River in Darkness also covers a much longer period of time and there is no happy ending; there is only continuing pain, suffering and death from brutality and starvation. Listening is painful, but also worthwhile.

71 of 74 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • DJW
  • North Carolina, USA
  • 01-03-18

Awful! And I don't mean the book . . .

This memoir is a horrifying saga on so many levels: personal, familial, communal, political, institutional, national, and global. Masaji Ishikawa, with his elegant yet understated prose, has changed my world view forever. How can one person treat another with such stark cruelty? How can one person endure such circumstances? How can governments and institutions get away with such blatant lies and abject misconduct? No doubt, I will never again think of myself as hungry, thirsty, stifled, scared, or mistreated without thinking of Mr. Ishikawa and silently rebuking myself. Gratitude is my mantra for 2018. (Would love to follow up and know how he is managing.)

74 of 78 people found this review helpful

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Important story on what life is really like in N Korea

Detailed, personal account of life in N Korea and the apathy and complicity of Western Governments to the situation there.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Brian Nishii is amazing

Brian Nishii is an incredible narrator. The story is so touching and I easily was drawn in. I hurt for the author and his woes

25 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Kika
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 05-22-18

Riveting!!

I listened to the whole book in one go. I’ve been listening to books written by people who have escaped NK for a while now, there’s just something about their lives and will to survive that draws me in. This mans story is probably the darkest ive heard. His life begins in Japan and then his family moves to NK with promises for a better life. It’s quickly apparent to them that they were lied to and are now trapped in an even more awful life than they left... This mans courage to continue no matter what happens inspired me and reminds me to always appreciate what I have... even though he has left NK he still lives in a life of limbo and that made me saddest of all. Hope he gets closure and lives the life he deserves.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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difficult yet necessary

this book was hard to listen to but an important book for all of us to hear.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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True eye opener

Growing up in a communist country myself, it was quite interesting to read someone’s story growing up in another communist place half around the world. While there were certainly many similarities, I feel so fortunate to have lived so much better. It is horrid how nations turn a blind eye to people withering away in places such as North Korea. This book is far from a great literary contribution but I appreciate his honesty and for sharing his story with the world to wake us up even if it’s just a prayer we can say for them.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Heart Wrenching Story

This memoir is extremely sad. You feel totally heart broken for this man and all he endures. Regardless of my personal opinions on the book/story-telling...this book is an eye-opening experience and everyone should read it.
Now personally, this book was missing something for me and I can't quite put my fingers on what it is. Whether it's in the way the story is told or if something was maybe lost in translation. I feel bad saying that but it's my honest opinion of the book. It was very much like a journalist was writing an article.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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The fortunate

His story is a reminder of why we must defend our democracy. Every election is one vote to protect what we have or lose a little freedom

19 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Suswati
  • 01-17-18

An utterly bleak story of an invisible man

Masaji Ishikawa's story is truly soul-crushing, the level of trauma is beyond comprehension, therefore read it with caution.

Ishikawa describes his life under the North Korean regime as gruelling, horrifically terrifying, and there are some completely hopeless moments where you think why even bother anymore.

His journey begins in Japan, the child of a Japanese mother and Korean father, he was forced at a young age to move to North Korea under the pretence of "returning" to his motherland, though he never believed so. His father, an originally extremely violent man became pacified as he realised the perilous situation he bought his family into. But they soon face the truth and brutality of their circumstances.

The narrator defects at a much later stage in life, living around 30 years under the dictatorship, but leaving his family behind. He questions whether he made the right decision in the end as the consequences are revealed and the reader is left writhing in agony at his pain.

It is not an easy read, but it is important to understand the level of complexity and the reality of the situation. An absolute must read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Avid reader
  • 10-14-18

Very Moving and hope that his family are alright

Very very moving and a good read
had to keep going to find the outcome
hope his family get found safe

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  • evosticky
  • 04-08-18

Shocking revelation!

Finished this book very quickly as I couldn't leave it. Heart-rending account of a father's stark choice to try and ensure his family's survival.

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  • Amazon Customer petamd
  • 01-27-18

great book

great book powerful and heartbreaking well written and translated l listened for three nights in a row an enjoyable but difficult experience highly recommend this book

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  • Jennifer2
  • 04-07-18

Too severe

How can people be suffering so much? It is incomprehensible to know and yet not be able to help.
Lord God in heaven, please grant an answer. Come in haste Lord Jesus, for relief of such families. Amen.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-22-18

This book should be publicly broadcast

It is so sad what people will do to each other and what lengths the victims have to go to to survive.

Everyone should read this book and open their eyes to the truth.
We can only hope that, with enough good people in the world, humanity can turn itself around.

Definitely an eye opener.

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  • Robin
  • 03-11-18

informative, terrible, loving

a period of japanesekorean history that I knew little about. the story was told with such depth and gives an insight to the north Korea of today.