A River in Darkness: Book Experience

Struggle is a relative word. What maybe basic to you, could be a luxury to dream for for someone else. Each one of us defines the word based on our own circumstances, dreams, and privilege. This book is also a struggle story. It is the story of the millions of others in North Korea who are struggling for the basic dignity of living. This memoir is the tale of hardships and winning, and the continued shadow of loneliness on the win of Masaji Ishikawa from escaping North Korea.

The book starts of him remembering the times when he was a young boy who used to live in Japan. His mother was of Japanese origin while his father was Korean. They belonged to the lower most class in terms of economy. The continued hardships of a poor family as well as the continued propaganda of North Korea being the paradise land eventually led them to move to N.Korea. Their dream of a better lifestyle was as short-lived as the dream during an afternoon nap. The world already knows what is the status of human life in N. Korea, and the same has been empathetically described in the book. People relying on weeds, wild mushrooms, broth of corn starch, to feed themselves, working tirelessly in the fields, mines, charcoal production, etc make your heart cry out loud. Masaji gives details of how a regular day looks like in a village in N. Korea. He makes you grateful for the little things, such as warm water, a bed, clean clothes, a shower, a house, and everything that you can see around yourself while reading this very sentence.

He also quotes the radio announcements and the propaganda statements used by the government. Everything is a war for the dictator. Growing rice is a war, providing cabbage is a war, living is a war. There is so much war in people’s minds that there is no place for peace.

Nevertheless reading books by N.Korea defectors, and survivors of the Holocaust is motivating. Not just from gratefulness sense, but also in terms of the hope that no condition, no suffering, no emotion, is permanent. Tides change, if not overnight but someday.

"This was laughable, of course, but that’s always the way with totalitarian regimes. Language gets turned on its head. Serfdom is freedom. Repression is liberation. A police state is a democratic republic. And we were “the masters of our destiny.” And if we begged to differ, we were dead."

Masaji Ishikawa

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