“I knew then I was destined for a life of hell on earth, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.” – A River in Darkness
Masaji Ishikawa was born in Japan in 1947 to a Japanese mother and Korean father. At the time, Koreans were considered subclass citizens in Japan, so it was difficult for his father to find a proper job and provide for his family. Toward the end of the 1950s, North Korean propaganda proliferated throughout Japan, urging Koreans to “return to the motherland” (or “promised land”) to a place of milk and honey, where Koreans were provided for and taken care of. So Masaji’s father uprooted the family and they set off to North Korea. For thirty years, Masaji and his family struggled to survive, living in ramshackle huts, eating poisonous weeds, and often being beaten because of their Japanese affiliations.
While reading Ishikawa’s memoir A River in Darkness, I had to frequently remind myself that the harrowing, tragic, and heart-wrenching tales he told were not the stuff of fiction. This was real. I paid attention in my history classes and at university I studied diplomacy and international relations, so I’m not a stranger to how most of the world perceives North Korea. It’s a totalitarian dictatorship in which the “supreme leaders” have propagated an agenda of false promises and irrational ideals to the greatest degree. However, reading a personal account of one person and the seemingly eternal suffering he experienced and witnessed, has left such an impact on my heart.
As this absurd pissing contest between the current US Administration and North Korea keeps popping up in the news, this book reminded me that within North Korea there are people just like me. And I may never know how they are truly living. Are they happy, are they suffering? But having read this book, I feel that my ears and eyes are open and aware. I can’t fix all the problems of the world, but I can be informed and inform others. Maybe the person who will fix all the problems of the world will read this book. So You, reading this blog post, please go read this book. Let’s create more compassion in the world.