A River in Darkness Book Summary - A River in Darkness Book explained in key points

A River in Darkness summary

Masaji Ishikawa

One Man’s Escape from North Korea

Listen to the first key idea

Key idea 1 of 6
4.5 (32 ratings)
18 mins
6 key ideas
Audio & text

What is A River in Darkness about?

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.

About the Author

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.

Table of Contents
    Key idea 1 of 6

    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.

    Want to see all full key ideas from A River in Darkness?

    Key ideas in A River in Darkness

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    Who should read A River in Darkness

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

    Categories with A River in Darkness

    What our members say

    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    25 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial