Asian studies in Lithuania
Original language: Japanese
Translated from: English
Authors: Ishikawa, Masaji
Translated by: Jėčienė, Vaida
ISBN: 978-609-8233-14-8
Published in: Vilnius
Published on: 2019
Publisher: Balto

“A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea” is a real and shocking story that tells the tragic story of an author who went to North Korea. The story is reminiscent of the terrible reality of North Korean people‘s lives, which is still hard to believe today. The book reflects the strict totalitarian regime in North Korea and the cult of “Great Leader’s Friend Kim Il Sung.”

Masaji Ishikawa was born between two worlds: a Korean father and a Japanese mother. The Ishikawa family spent several years in Japan, where they experienced horrific violence by their alcoholic father. However, when North Korea launched a repatriation campaign in 1958, the family went to “paradise on earth.” Hoping to start life anew as a happy, harmonious family, Ishikawa encounters a terrible reality that really is far from “paradise on earth.” Hunger, discrimination, hard work, poverty are just some of the aspects that accompany Masaji’s life in North Korea. The loss of loved ones becomes a daily routine, and every hope to improve their lives fades as quickly as they appeared.

A desperate situation pushes Masaji to use one last resort – to try to travel back to Japan. Masaji believed that he could help his dying family more from his native country. The stressful journey to the Jalu River and its crossing ends happily and Masaji reaches China. But Masaji’s hopes of saving his family, which is still in North Korea’s grasp, are being dampened. Now, although he has reached his goal of reaching his native Japan, Masaji is left to think about his sad past and live in solitude.

The dark and sensitive story allows the reader to see a completely different world – the country of the modern totalitarian regime. People in the story worship their god, Kim Il Sung. Those who utter a bad word about the leader or his power simply disappear, are taken to concentration camps, or shot on the spot. People distrust each other, betray everyone they can, and live in constant fear. In a terrible situation, the instincts of survival alone make one not give up and cling to the world slipping from under one‘s feet.

Initiators of the project: Japan foundation VDU