Get the key ideas from

A River in Darkness

One Man’s Escape from North Korea

By Masaji Ishikawa
12-minute read
Audio available
A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness (2000) is the harrowing true story of one man’s life in and eventual escape from the brutal dictatorship of North Korea. Born in Japan, Masaji Ishikawa was one of hundreds of thousands of Koreans who moved to the country between the 1950s and 1980s. His memoir chronicles the life of drudgery, terror and endless hardship that awaited them.

  • Human rights advocates
  • History buffs fascinated by the Cold War
  • Anyone who loves true life stories

Masaji Ishikawa was born in 1947 to a Korean father and a Japanese mother. in 1960, he moved with his parents and three sisters to North Korea. Promised a better life in the new workers’ state, the family found themselves trapped in a totalitarian nightmare. Ishikawa finally managed to escape and return to Japan in 1996. His memoir, A River in Darkness, is an Amazon Charts Most Read and Most Sold Book.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
3,000+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from

A River in Darkness

One Man’s Escape from North Korea

By Masaji Ishikawa
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
Synopsis

A River in Darkness (2000) is the harrowing true story of one man’s life in and eventual escape from the brutal dictatorship of North Korea. Born in Japan, Masaji Ishikawa was one of hundreds of thousands of Koreans who moved to the country between the 1950s and 1980s. His memoir chronicles the life of drudgery, terror and endless hardship that awaited them.

Key idea 1 of 7

Ishikawa’s family were promised a better life in North Korea, but they were cruelly persecuted.

Between the late 1950s and mid-1980s, over 100,000 Koreans and 2,000 Japanese citizens left Japan aboard ships bound for North Korea. It’s a remarkable chapter in history. It was the first – and remains the only – time such a large number of people left a capitalist country for a socialist one.

But the emigrants were soon confronted with plenty of evidence that this so-called “paradise on earth” wasn’t all that it’d been cracked up to be.

The first sign came when they docked. The arrivals – Ishikawa’s family among them – were shocked at how poorly attired the North Koreans helping unload the ship were. Their clothes suggested that the locals were poorer than they’d ever been in Japan.

Their first meal was another red flag. They were given terrible-smelling dog meat. Hardly anyone in their group managed more than a mouthful.

Ishikawa’s family spent the next week confined in a small, cold room before being assigned to their future home in the village of Dong Chong-ri.

It was a pretty out-of-the-way spot, but the family didn’t have connections in the Korean Workers’ Party or the League of Koreans. Knowing the right people was the only way of securing a residence in the capital of Pyongyang, where the best opportunities could be found.

Things didn’t improve when they arrived in their new home, either. Their neighbors regarded them as Japanese. Discrimination was commonplace.

Take Ishikawa’s first school day. One of his classmates called him a “Japanese bastard” as soon as he entered the classroom. Other students made snide remarks about his fancy watch and bag.

Such items were uncommon in North Korea, and most students usually wrapped their belongings in a cloth that they carried with them. Ishikawa quickly learned to do the same.

But he wasn’t the only family member struggling to fit in. His mother had studied mathematics and worked as a nurse – but this didn’t impress the village’s party officials. They refused to give her a job until she learned Korean.

Not having anything else to do, she wandered the mountains looking for things she could pick and cook later. That helped supplement the meager diet the family could afford on the small salary Ishikawa’s father earned as a farmer.

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

Key ideas in this title

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

No time to
read?

Pssst. Sign up to your secret to success: key ideas from top nonfiction in just 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.