Book Review | A River in Darkness

Book Review

We’ve all heard about North Korea. I probably haven’t gone more than a week without seeing it in the news lately. But with everything else going on, I think we tend to forget what matters most: the people. I picked up A River in Darkness on a whim, and ended up gaining a lot of valuable insight into the lives of people we don’t get to see all that often.

(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)


(From Goodreads) 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 River in Darkness is Masaji Ishikawa’s story of how he ended up in North Korea as a teenager and escaped nearly four decades later. In between those two events, he faced challenges most of us couldn’t even imagine. It was heartbreaking to read how he and his family were persecuted, beaten, and starved. What he went through, and what so many people living in North Korea go through every day, made me truly sad.

I can’t say I loved this book, or even enjoyed it. Not because I didn’t appreciate it, but because those words feel too happy for this story. But I can say that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn more about what other people go through, even if it’s not pleasant. It’s books like this that make me a more empathetic person, and I am so glad I decided to read this one. Even if it hurt me.


★★★★☆ – This was a difficult book to rate, simply because of how important it is. And even though this wasn’t one of my favorite books of all time, I highly recommend it. It’s not an easy read by any means, but I strongly believe the world would be a better place if more people read books like this, and understood how other people live.

A River in Darkness is available in bookstores now. You can pick up a copy on Amazon. (It’s free on Kindle Unlimited if you subscribe.)

To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose A River in Darkness as one of your two free books.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission for purchases made through this post.*

4 thoughts on “Book Review | A River in Darkness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.