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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
  • 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.)

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Listened straight through. Powerfully tragic story

Hard to understand the weight of the world that is laid upon an individual by the country and circumstance of birth.

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Such a 😢 book

This book told what happened when a young boy, his siblings and parents left Japan during a 93,000 person exodus, for what they thought would be a better life in N. Korea. As a family, they nearly starved to death. It would be years before the boy, now grown and married could make it back to Japan. But making it back to Japan wasn't what he hoped it would be either. A very sad story. And so worth reading.

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Would love a follow-up...

I thought I knew a little about the living conditions for most people in North Korea, but this book was a real eye opener. Being so desperate as to boiling pine bark, knowing the deadly risk if not boiled enough to remove the toxins, and still having gastric distress upon consumption, broke my heart.
I’m left with so many questions though, and wish Mr. Ishikawa could be on 20/20 or 60 minutes to answer some of them. Wouldn’t Mr. Ishikawa’s family be punished or executed for his escape? How did he think he would be able to send food aid or rescue to his family once safely on home soil?

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Unrelenting Depressing

I cannot even fathom how these people persevered under such abominable circumstances. This story takes place over 20 years ago, I would like to know what the current situation is. The entire population must be decimated by now. A shocking and depressing story but important to know this is happening in this world right now.

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Couldn't Stop Listening

This is an amazing story. I was heartbroken at points and feeling like a cheerleader at others. even though I knew the outcome, I couldn't help but wonder how it would come about in the end.

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Very sad story. it will make you appreciate USA.

Freedom is a blessing. This poor man went through hell. I'm glad he wrote this book so we can realize how bad it is under a country with a dictator.

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Whiny.

The story is tragic and what you would imagine out of N Korea.
Reader is irritating and comes across as very whiny and unauthentic.
I stuck with it to hear stories sad end but man...

0 of 4 people found this review helpful