Summary of A River in Darkness

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A River in Darkness book summary

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Masaji Ishikawa’s brutally vivid memoir of life in North Korea depicts sorrow, hunger, deprivation, cold and loss. This short, intense portrait evokes the horrors he found after leaving his native Japan at age 13 in 1960. His Korean father decided to move the family to North Korea, in hopes of finding a better life in the “promised land” described in the country’s extensive propaganda. In fact, the family found only torment. In 1996 – after 36 years in North Korea – Ishikawa escaped back to Japan, facing the loss of his children and his identity. This English-language translation of his autobiography, which he wrote in Japanese in 2000, provides a rare look at life in one of the world’s most enigmatic, oppressive nations. Even with a few inconsistencies in the narrative’s timeline, Ishikawa’s saga is expressive and harrowing. getAbstract recommends it to anyone interested in North Korean life and to those who appreciate detailed personal histories.

About the Author

Masaji Ishikawa was born in Japan in 1947 to a Korean father and a Japanese mother. When he was 13 years old, his family moved to North Korea, where he remained until his 1996 escape to Japan.


“Grab…Destiny by the Throat and Wring Its Neck” 

Masaji Ishikawa doesn’t believe in a set destiny from birth. He believes he had five births. And he fought for his life each time. In 2000, he published his autobiography in his native Japan under the pseudonym Shunsuke Miyazake to document his five lives – including spending 36 oppressive years in North Korea before fleeing in 1996. 

“Born Between Two Worlds  

From the moment of he was born, Masaji Ishikawa had to live between two worlds. His mother was Japanese; his father was Korean. Named Masaji in Japanese and Do Chan-sun in Korean, he had what he calls his “first birth” in 1947 in Kawasaki. Though his family had little money, he had a happy childhood in the farming neighborhood of Mizonokuchi, Japan. His mother, Miyoko, came from a well-respected family with close community ties. Her family viewed Koreans as barbarians. Her older brothers had fought with the Japanese army in Manchuria and described Koreans as gorillas –&#...

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