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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times bestseller and Amazon Charts Most Read and Most Sold book.

A Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Memoir & Autobiography.

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 by Masaji Ishikawa. (P)2017 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved. Translation © 2017 by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown.

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What listeners say about A River in Darkness

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Shocking

Sad, eye opening story which made me feel so sorry for the North Koreans desperate situation.

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Thank you for the memoir

Thank you Masaji. My heart goes out to you and I hope life can give you some happiness in the future.

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Amazing

Gripping, poignant and eye opening memoir!! Brian Nishii does a great job of narrating this. Highly recommend.

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A River in Darkness

A truly harrowing story of despair and betrayal and mankind at its worst.

My heart breaks for Masaji Ishikawa and I pray that he will find peace and recognition for the heroic kind man that he is.

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Too severe

How can people be suffering so much? It is incomprehensible to know and yet not be able to help.
Lord God in heaven, please grant an answer. Come in haste Lord Jesus, for relief of such families. Amen.

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This book should be publicly broadcast

It is so sad what people will do to each other and what lengths the victims have to go to to survive.

Everyone should read this book and open their eyes to the truth.
We can only hope that, with enough good people in the world, humanity can turn itself around.

Definitely an eye opener.

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informative, terrible, loving

a period of japanesekorean history that I knew little about. the story was told with such depth and gives an insight to the north Korea of today.

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  • C. F. Gagnon
  • 31-05-2018

Heartbreaking

I just finished this book, and I immediately Googled the author. There are no stories about him other than this book, and I wonder if he has made any money from this book because I personally got it because it was on the Amazon free day. The story is engrossing and heartbreaking, and the picture of humanity here is dark and powerful. All I can think about is hoping that some sunshine comes into his life and some news of his family reaches him in time to have them reunited or to at least help them get out somehow. I am so grateful to be able to read his account and his memoir. I would recommend this book to anyone if only to convey some picture of what life is truly like in North Korea.

69 people found this helpful

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  • Legba
  • 14-07-2018

Important story on what life is really like in N Korea

Detailed, personal account of life in N Korea and the apathy and complicity of Western Governments to the situation there.

19 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • DJW
  • 03-01-2018

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.)

86 people found this helpful

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  • Wayne
  • 18-07-2018

North Korea horror - non-fiction

I listened to and reviewed In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park six months ago. A RIVER IN DARKNESS is a very different story but like In Order to Live it is a damning account of the government of and living condition in North Korea. A River in Darkness also covers a much longer period of time and there is no happy ending; there is only continuing pain, suffering and death from brutality and starvation. Listening is painful, but also worthwhile.

82 people found this helpful

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  • Kaite
  • 27-03-2018

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

28 people found this helpful

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  • Kika
  • 22-05-2018

Riveting!!

I listened to the whole book in one go. I’ve been listening to books written by people who have escaped NK for a while now, there’s just something about their lives and will to survive that draws me in. This mans story is probably the darkest ive heard. His life begins in Japan and then his family moves to NK with promises for a better life. It’s quickly apparent to them that they were lied to and are now trapped in an even more awful life than they left... This mans courage to continue no matter what happens inspired me and reminds me to always appreciate what I have... even though he has left NK he still lives in a life of limbo and that made me saddest of all. Hope he gets closure and lives the life he deserves.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Pamela J. Martinez
  • 16-07-2018

difficult yet necessary

this book was hard to listen to but an important book for all of us to hear.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Beckersly
  • 30-05-2018

Heart Wrenching Story

This memoir is extremely sad. You feel totally heart broken for this man and all he endures. Regardless of my personal opinions on the book/story-telling...this book is an eye-opening experience and everyone should read it.
Now personally, this book was missing something for me and I can't quite put my fingers on what it is. Whether it's in the way the story is told or if something was maybe lost in translation. I feel bad saying that but it's my honest opinion of the book. It was very much like a journalist was writing an article.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Claudia Schmidt
  • 07-07-2018

True eye opener

Growing up in a communist country myself, it was quite interesting to read someone’s story growing up in another communist place half around the world. While there were certainly many similarities, I feel so fortunate to have lived so much better. It is horrid how nations turn a blind eye to people withering away in places such as North Korea. This book is far from a great literary contribution but I appreciate his honesty and for sharing his story with the world to wake us up even if it’s just a prayer we can say for them.

18 people found this helpful

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  • William
  • 20-05-2019

A good insight into life in the Workers' Paradise

Masaji Ishikawa has a Japanese name, but is not really Japanese. In 1894, Japan overran Korea, making it a Japanese colony until it was liberated at the end of World War II. Masaji’s father had been forcibly taken from his family and moved to Japan as a servant along with many other young men. He eventually married a Japanese woman, but Koreans could never be accepted as real Japanese. Nor were his children, Masaji among them. And at the end of the war, Korea was split into two halves with the Korean War, a proxy between the US and its allies and on the other side, China and the USSR. When that was over, Koreans in Japan struggled with their place. They were strongly discriminated against in Japan and never fully considered to be Japanese--barbarians from a barbarian culture. Masaji was born into this time of racial discrimination and poverty (no one wanted to hire a “Korean”) with an alcoholic father and a broken home. South Korea was struggling to build itself into a nation and didn’t need more mouths to feed. In the mid-50’s Japan was in the middle of a severe recession, and didn’t want the Koreans. On the other hand, the north was calling itself a workers paradise and was still behind a veil of secrecy. They were actively recruiting Koreans to return home to the “paradise for Korean workers” and in 1958 a massive repatriation initiative was begun, with Japan cooperating with the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung to encourage as many as possible to leave Japan, a program that continued even up to 1984. When Masaji and his family arrived they immediately found that they had been lied to, and though the documents they had originally signed in the effort (organized and directed by the Red Cross, incidentally), stated that they could leave and return to Japan even after arriving in North Korea, that turned out to be untrue, or at least impossible. Now, in Korea, they were called “Japanese bastards” and were at the bottom of the supposedly equal, but inherently hierarchical society, not eligible for higher education or even good factory jobs. As the Korean economy went from bad to worse, starvation became commonplace, and he watched as people begin to starve themselves, his mother spend the day in the mountains nearby scavenging weeds that were not poisonous, and eventually the death of his mother, father, and others. He eventually married and had a family, but they continued to struggle on a starvation diet, until he decided that he had to escape and try to get his family out after him. He did so, crossing the shallow river between them and China, luckily evading the guards that patrolled the river. Even with his escape from Korea, he had to avoid being caught in China as they would have sent him back to be executed. When he was smuggled out of China to Japan, he began to work to get his family out, but it seems without success. The book gives a lot of understanding about life in North Korea and life under a military dictatorship in general--the things that one had to do to survive with no hope or expectation that anything would ever get better. It is translated from Japanese and seems incomplete in some areas. Still it’s worth reading for the insight it gives and the sense of the fragility of society that it leaves you with.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Suswati
  • 17-01-2018

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.

6 people found this helpful

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  • P. Lung
  • 20-02-2020

Spoilt by Amateur Narrator

Very annoying and flippant sounding narration which ruined my overall enjoyment of this book. Very bad narrator.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Frederico Santos
  • 13-06-2019

Powerful and disturbing

I have no reason to believe there is any lack of factfulness in the book. But, even if only 50% of it was true, it still is unbelievable. The description of the situation in the early/mid nighties is so vivid and enraging you feel like not listening anymore... 1994!!! Kurt Cobain died that year... it's not like it was 150 years ago.

Makes you wonder how it is right now, hopefully not so bad...

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jamie
  • 17-12-2018

Brutal, horrific & necessary

This is not an easy listen. The suffering of the author, his family, the whole nation of North Korea are laid out in uncompromising honesty. But it is definitely worth hearing. Even if you think you know about the problems the country has, this deeply personal account of a much bigger tragedy is eye-opening.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer petamd
  • 27-01-2018

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

1 person found this helpful

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  • rikki
  • 20-12-2020

a heartbreaking story

similar depressing tales of life in north korea to other books but with the twist that his family left japan to go there semi voluntary. it does make me appreciate the freedoms we have in the uk

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  • N. Booth
  • 14-12-2020

Poignant

Depressing story about lives destroyed by political ideology and madness. Good narration by Brian Nishii.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-12-2020

Mind blowing!!

Must hearing. Powerful and sad story and really heart wrenching. it really helps to see the otherside of the coin.

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  • Sigrin
  • 06-12-2020

Bleak, brutal and bitter.

Firstly I wold like to address the comments of poor narration by other reviewers. I felt he was extremely good , certainly not flippant. I personally think that when language is translated from one to another there is sometimes an essence of that culture and language that is lost in translation.
Now to this harrowing but still amazing book. It describes very vividly the life of Masaji his brief time in Japan with his violent Korean father and gentile Japanese mother, then their return to the paradise of north Korea which they had been promised.
The utter desolation hit me when they crossed the bridge over to North Korea and the Red Cross workers were telling them if they did not want to go they could go back now.
Masajis life is more than harsh and he describes his schooling, growing up, family and life in general with brutal honest simplicity. I do not doubt what he says is true and wonder were he found the strength after all those years to leave, mainly because at that point they were starving to death.
Mans inhumanity to man is astonishing and I kept thinking of books I have read of WW2 concentration camps and felt there was little or no difference.
The corruption and propaganda of the North Korean regime brainwashing and disparaging its people is unbelievable and I feel for those still living in this desolate inhospitable climate in the 21st century.

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  • Kenbank
  • 02-05-2020

Tragic, heartbreaking, incomprehensible suffering

A life of such tragedy that it is incomprehensible most of us. The story is like that of a movie, only it is all too real for so many people, living through it day by day, right now. I don't know how he carried on in those moments of absolute torment and hardship. I also don't know how he continues to to this day, with all that history. I hope he is as well as he can be , thank you for telling your story

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