You don’t choose to be born. You just are. And your birth is your destiny, some say. I say the hell with that. And I should know. I was born not just once but five times. And five times I learned the same lesson. Sometimes in life, you have to grab your so-called destiny by the throat and wring its neck.
North Korea is a dark place where its citizens are starved to submission. That’s what the media always tell us. How true is that? What does it feel to live there?
Masaji Ishikawa, a Japanese-Korean émigré who lived in North Korea for over 30 years, tells us his story in this book. Basically, he was born in a rural area in Japan from a Japanese mother and a South Korean father (back when there was only one Korea). His father was forced to go to Japan as a teenager during Japanese invasion of Korea. After WW2, he was stranded in Japan. Koreans, as it happens with large immigrant populations, were looked down on in Japan. Lack of education, opportunities and growing up in a hostile environment probably contributed to Masaji’s dad becoming an abusive, violent and stranged husband and father. In the 1960s North Korea is looking for immigrants to work in developing the country and increase its propaganda in Korea, promising jobs, education and a bright future. This is a sweet promise for Koreans living in Japan who are poor and cannot possibly afford higher education (and thus, a way out of poverty) to their kids. Masaji’s dad bites the bait and moves his family to North Korea, a place where he’s never been nor knows anyone.
All returnees are eyed with suspicion, since they can break the bubble and teach North-Koreans the holes and blatant lies in government’s propaganda. Being a Japanese family is even worse (after all, Japanese domination of the peninsula was recent history). So, the family is placed in the poorest location in rural North Korea mandated to be farmers (the poorest strata of society) and condemned to a life of hard labor and poverty. Masaji takes through his life and challenges to survive for over 30 years and in the midst of the country’s greatest famine in history. His tale is full of hope, disappointments and sadness. Like all immigrants, looking for a better future for his loved ones, he escapes North Korea by crossing the river to China.
If you like Hollywood-kind-of endings, this book will be a disappointment. It is more like the story of Job than anything you may watch on TV. For me, that made it powerful and real.
However, since Masaji only had an elementary school education (and a bad one for that matter), editors must have had a hard time putting this book into shape. The language is simple but it is well written. It is not a work of literature, but a sad story told in simple words, thus very relatable and believable.
Veredit: Buy. It may help to put the news into context. Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5