Tuesday, April 03, 2018

A River in Darkness

If you have a Kindle and £1.00 to spare, Masaji Ishikawa’s A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea is well worth reading. It is fairly short but covers an interesting aspect of North Korean history – the repatriation of Koreans from Japan. From Amazon -

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.

Mr Ishikawa escaped back to Japan during the nineties famine after Kim Il-sung died. Here are a couple of quotes, the first being a recipe for pine bark cakes.

First, boil the pine bark for as long as possible to get rid of all the toxins. (Many people botched this stage and died in agony as a result.) Next, add some cornstarch and steam the evil brew. Then cool it, form it into cakes, and eat it. This was easier said than done. The pine oil stinks to high heaven and makes it almost impossible to consume it. But if you wanted to live, you choked it down. That’s when the real fun began. Crippling gut pain that brought us to our knees; constipation that you wouldn’t believe. When the pain became unbearable—there’s no delicate way of putting this—you had to shove your finger up your anus and scoop out your concrete shit. I’m sorry. You didn’t need to know that. Except you did. It’s the only thing that shows how desperate we were.

The second quote sounds almost familiar.

People in North Korea spend so much time in study meetings and calculating the number of hours they’ve worked that there’s no time to do the actual work. The result? Raw materials don’t arrive in factories, the electricity doesn’t work, and farms are overrun with weeds.

Mr Ishikawa has a grim story to tell and he tells it well. To my mind he brings out the corruption, the crazy lies and the bureaucratic insanity Kim Il-sung implemented.


Sackerson said...

How awful. I also read a review some while back of a book by a man who escaped from a North Korean prison camp and I was not at all tempted to buy the book, it's too terrible. I think it said he had to betray his mother and/or sister in order to make the opportunity to escape, and in any case I think three generations of relatives are routinely killed for what someone does "wrong".

A K Haart said...

Sackers - after reading this I downloaded a sample of another book on North Korea but didn't buy the book - too grim. The inhuman madness of it can be depressing too.