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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

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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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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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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.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • DJW
  • 03-01-18

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.)

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Kaite Pumps A lot
  • 27-03-18

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

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • B. Orenstein
  • 20-03-18

Timely and harrowing

Where does A River in Darkness rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Thought this memoir was terrific. Learned a great deal about life in Korea. Very timely.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amal
  • 01-03-18

Great performance VERY sad story

I really like the narrator’s performance, the story is well written but very tragic! It’s sad how many stories were not told.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • ECL
  • 28-04-18

Sad but poignant story

I can feel the joys and sorrows in the telling of his story. Things I can only imagine are the normal way of life for many people who live it on a daily basis.

Memorable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rick Alexander
  • 25-04-18

A Stark Story of Surviving the Hell of North Korea

Wow! What a powerful story! A must-read for every American. This story tells the detailed account of a survivor who escsped from North Korea. It is full of raw emotions and almost incomprehensible horrors. For me it illustrated the incredible blessings of freedom in America and demonstrated very brutally the effects of totalitarianism versus capitalism. Anyone who believes in socialism should read this book. It should forever change their mind. Every American and international lawmaker should read it too and enact policy accordingly.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Don Juanson
  • 25-04-18

Must Read!

This book is very well written and the story is incredible. It’s sad but it’s eye opening and your life will be viewed in a different lens far afterwards.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • GINI. N. BOTTLE
  • 24-04-18

so sad but happy I read it

sad, interesting story. it's terrible to think there are many more stories like this around the world. thanks for sharing

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • MAS
  • 19-05-18

Sad but true

Realistic as we’re going to hear I suspect out of N. Korea. There are doubtless similar stories of starvation and hopelessness from all over the globe. Rarely have I read a book that leaves me dispirited and depressed.
But, that’s what happens I guess when we view the base reality of many authoritarian and corrupt regimes.
At least it’s relatively short for such a tragic life.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 16-05-18

Inside North Korea

Paradise or Earth sure sounds better than the fact of starving to death
Horrible look at the inside of N Korea after Communism took hold
i learned more than I ever wanted to know about the conditions there.
Heartbreaking