Book Review: A River in Darkness, Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness34663135

By: Masaji Ishikawa

Translation By: Risa KobayashiMartin Brown

 Published: January 1st, 2018

Length: 174 pages

Rating: ☆☆☆☆


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.

Cool Fact:

I chose this book using Amazon First Reads. Did you know that if you’re a Prime member you get one free advance copy of an E book that’s due to release the following month. Another great thing is that if you like more than one title you can most likely find Goodreads doing giveaways for all the titles. I guess that’s one benefit to those tow linking up. I don’t know how that’s gonna work with the new changes Goodreads in implementing, hopefully this will continue. I’m letting you know about Amazon First Reads, because I had Prime for about a year before I found out about it.


While the life that Mr. Ishikawa live was horrifying by anyone standards, I found that at time the book was difficult to read. At moments it seemed as though a cohesive thought was not entirely transformed from reality to word. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this book was written from translation, so I can’t really fault it.

I’m not a history buff, I will never claim to be. I know enough that I was able to graduate from school but never really gave much thought to what was being taught to me.  I find the memoirs have become a much more effective way for me to comprehend the history throughout the world as opposed to  reading from a textbook that seemed to just ramble facts off. For instance I’m sure I learn of what was happening in Korea prior to reading A River in the Dark. But as I read I became more invested in the journey, more invested in the political aspect, the trying nature of the events that unfolded.

I was left elated and heartbroken as I reached the end of one man’s journey to just return home to a life that was striped from him because he was a child. The worst part is that even though this is part of our global existence not enough is being done to rectify the situation for him and everyone who has and still are suffering. One can only hope that something even if it small can be accomplished with that talks between South and North Korea. Yes, after reading this memoir I found myself wanting to know what was happening. This was the first time in a long time that I voluntarily looked up anything along the political line. I found a few articles, if you two are interested. CNNNY Post & USA Today.

Now with all the positive being said I still had one question left unanswered. Once you draw to the conclusion of the story Masaji Ishikawa openly tells that he is not suppose reveal that the Japanese authority helped in him in anyway. But by writing this novel is that not what he did. Did he not reveal the one part of the agreement that was the most crucial. There are also other questions that sort of had been left open. While some information was given to the whereabouts of his family that was left in Korea, there really wasn’t a complete conclusion.

This was an eye opener for me. I  think starting of my year with this has really grounded me. It has really made me realize just how lucky of a person I am in life. I don’t think I could have been as strong as Masaji Ishikawa or his sister or even his children who grew only to know one world.




30 thoughts on “Book Review: A River in Darkness, Masaji Ishikawa

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    1. It is a definite must read for those who are history buffs a=or those looking to be more thankful for all they have in life. I know I as 100 x’s more thankful for how I grew up after reading it.


  1. This just went on my must read list for the year Cia. Books like this fascinate me and you’re so right that reading about history in a true life memoir form teaches us so much more about the reality of what actually happened. I find I connect far more with people that just dates and facts.


  2. North Korea is such a controversy, as nobody knows what is really happening there and how the people really live. This book sounds like an eye opener and even if it doesn’t go into so many details, just the personal struggles he is going through are enough to make us think of how people are living inside the communist country. I come from an ex-communist country and while I don’t remember much from those times, as I was still a baby when it all ended, I do remember the aftermath, and it wasn’t nice at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m always looking for a new book to read!! Such an interesting review. Thank you for sharing and I DID NOT know that about Amazon Prime!!


  4. I need to really read this book – I understand what you mean by the translation it can make things harder to understand or to feel the story. Not a history buff either, but this is the kind of subject I want to read more about!


  5. This sounds like a real eye opening read and I enjoy that in books, its great to learn others experiences in the world. I guess with the memoir being directly translated there may be bits that don’t quite blend together, that happens with some languages, not sure about in this case. I would certainly want to read this book.


  6. I really like the book cover. This sounds really fascinating, especially now given all that’s happening politically. Thanks for the tip about Amazon! I’ve had Prime for a long time and didn’t know that was an option.


  7. Love your review, this sounds so interesting. I would love to check this one out, my kind of book. I am a member of Amazon prime, they do have some nice perks, need to be active and check.


  8. Thank you for letting me know about Amazon First Reads, because I am also a Prime member and didn’t know I had this benefit! Thank you!! This seems like such a good time to check out this book so that I can get a feel for what this country is really like.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A book with nice and out of the box thought. Never thought too deep about the children who born from two different country parents.. I will try to read this book. I loved the subject matter. Thank you for letting us know about such an amazing book..


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