This tragic memoir tells the story of a man of mixed Japanese – Korean heritage who was, as a boy, moved to North Korea under a “repatriation” program that was designed to provide North Korea with laborers while conveniently reducing a minority problem for the Japanese. During the Second World War, Japan had imported labor from Korea for the war effort. As it happens, Ishikawa’s father was from South Korea, but – in the wake of the Korean War -- it was North Korea that was looking for rank-and-file laborers.
The author’s father was eager to get out of Japan because he was treated as minorities frequently are – especially ones as rough around the edges as he, and so he swallowed the propaganda of Kim Il Sung’s regime hook-line-and-sinker. The author’s mother (and the author, himself) didn’t want to leave Japan because she didn’t speak the language and was ethnically Japanese (putting her in the minority shoes.) Little could any of them have known how bad life in North Korea would be, and how dire a mistake it was to agree to the move.
Life in North Korea was hard on everybody (except the party elite), but it was particularly hard on this family because: a.) they were discriminated against and could only attain the lowest-of-the-low in farm sector jobs; b.) they were accustomed to life in Japan and so they knew exactly how backwards North Korea was compared to its neighbors; and, c.) the wife’s family in Japan disowned them, and so even when other transplanted families began to be able to receive wealth from their kin in Japan, their family was cut off (but assumed by neighbors to be receiving packages.) From constantly having to game the system to get enough calories to survive to a series of tragic events that were largely tied to the country’s impoverished nature (e.g. inadequate healthcare,) the book features one soul-wrenching turn of events after the next.
Ishikawa grew to manhood in North Korea, married twice, and had children, but when the famine struck in the 1990’s he fled the country into China across the Yalu River, leaving his family behind. The book’s last chapter deals with Ishikawa’s challenges living in an expensive first world country – Japan – while trying to get his family back. It’s difficult to know whether Ishikawa ever serious could have thought he could get his family out once he was gone. Certainly, he proposes that he did think that, and he spoke to Japanese diplomats (who felt horrible about what had come of people like him) about it. Still, it’s hard to imagine how he could have thought so, being familiar with how the Kim dynasty operated. Still, one may have to grant a man his delusions when he makes such a hard decision while he is literally starving to death. Ishikawa was able to discover what happened to at least some of his family members, and that information is in an epilogue.
I found this book gripping and fascinating. It’s depressing reading throughout, there’s no getting around that, but it gives insight into how people live in the villages of North Korea that is not so extensively described elsewhere – not to mention what it’s like to be a member of a minority group, labeled a “hostile” and essentially relegated to a low-caste life. I would highly recommend this book for all readers. It’s one the best books of 2018 that I’ve read this year.
This has got to be the most heart wrenching story I have ever read. A true memoir of the plight of the people of the "Democratic Republic" (Dictatorship) of North Korea. I did shed a few tears along the way and kept me awake till late one night just thinking and thankful for all that I have got. Mr. Ishikawa is a brave soul and I can't help thinking how he feels to not see his family, his children ever again.
The book is a must read and is a page turner. It takes you in to the lives of the North Koreans and really keeps you going.
A truly heart-wrenchig account of the author's life of thirty-six years in North Korea and the harrowing experience the government there put the cirizens through. A tale of endless agony, an unimaginable will to survive the ordeals and finally escape..... Everything was captured brilliantly. I finished the book in one sitting. Highly recommended for someone who is interested to know about daily life of a common man in North Korea. I am really thankful for my life in India.
This book nearly gave me goosebumps. And the narration by Masaji San was extremely good. I felt bad for the Author's and all the other people's lives. Uptil now I'd only heard about the cruelty in North Korea, but after reading this one, I understand it was or is a real hell hole.
Excellent read. I read a memoir for the first time and it was truly worth reading. :)