Masaji Ishikawa – A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea

Masaji Ishikawa – A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea

Ishikawa was born in Japan in 1947 to a Korean father and Japanese mother. His family moved to north Korea when he was 13. This turned out to be a mistake, and it took him 36 years to escape. Ishikawa’s story is one of hunger, pain, loneliness, drudgery, heartbreak, and loss.

North Korea also has a rigid caste system. Anyone with Japanese lineage or family connections was essentially an untouchable, making Ishikawa’s life even harder. Fortunately, he at least managed to stay out of the north Korean gulag.

As most memoirs do, some parts seem a little exaggerated, especially his early years in Japan, which were dominated by an abusive and thuggish father—who made the fateful decision to move to north Korea rather than South Korea, where he was born. The move changed his father’s personality for the better almost overnight. But Ishikawa does not portray himself as a saint, regretting more than one instance where he inherited his father’s temper.

More to the point, Ishikawa tells stories from the inside of a nation-scale human rights tragedy. By bringing attention to the issue, he is helping to make things better one day. Even if he has not yet found happiness for himself after his escape–a common theme in other north Korean escapee memoirs I’ve read–Ishikawa has still done an immense amount of good for others. May he find some peace in knowing that.


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