A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

An Amazon Charts Most Read and Most Sold book.

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.



“A terrifying true story of life in North Korea…Told in simple prose, this is a shocking and devastating tale of a country’s utter contempt for its citizens.” Kirkus Reviews
“In his achingly straightforward memoir, Ishikawa vividly describes the horrendous conditions that the tyrannical and cultish state inflicts on its people…Ishikawa relates his painful story with sardonic humor and unwavering familial love even in the depths of despair, making human the often impersonal news coverage of mysterious and threatening North Korea.” Booklist (starred review)
“Like Kang Chol-hwan’s The Aquariums of Pyongyang (2001)—the book that spurred President George W. Bush’s commitment to helping the people of North Korea—Mr. Ishikawa’s…descriptions of North Korean poverty are chilling, as are his accounts of the corruption and repression that dominated every aspect of life there…searing, swiftly paced.” Wall Street Journal
“Masaji Ishikawa was born in Japan to a Korean father but repatriated as a boy to the supposed paradise of North Korea. Newly translated into English, this account of his life and appalling times should become a classic.” South China Morning Post



A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa as translated by Martin Brown

172 pages

ISBN 978-1503936904



Born in 1947 in Kawasaki, Japan, Masaji Ishikawa moved with his parents and three sisters to North Korea in 1960 at the age of thirteen, where he lived until his escape in 1996. He currently resides in Japan.

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