Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The compelling memoir of an escapee from North Korea November 20, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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SEVERAL DAYS AGO I STARTED and finished A River in Darkness—One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa’s memoir, written in 2000 and translated in 2017, is a compelling book, the type of story you want to stay up late reading.

It was a fitting read right before Thanksgiving. Why would I say that given the content which is simultaneously revealing and absolutely heartbreaking? It is not easy to read about an oppressive government, corruption, propaganda, starvation, death, discrimination and so many other horrors.

But it is a book that needs to be read by someone like me. Someone who grew up without much but still had enough. Someone like me who is the daughter of a Korean War veteran. Someone like me who pursued a journalism degree. Someone like me who can write and speak freely. Someone like me who lives in a free country.

I needed to read Ishikawa’s statement: “The penalty for thinking was death.” To me, that proved the most powerful line in the memoir. I cannot imagine feeling that you cannot even think freely.

Upon finishing the book, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the freedoms I have. But I also felt an overwhelming sense of grief for those people who live under oppressive regimes. Still today. This book opened my eyes wide as political rhetoric runs rampant.

TELL ME: Have you read this memoir and, if so, how did you react?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “The compelling memoir of an escapee from North Korea”

  1. Beck Says:

    I did not read it-yet. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Claudette Says:

    I haven’t read this memoir but on occasion, there have been excerpts from books like this in newspapers or other venues that had me reading, mostly from deflectors who somehow managed to not just escape but survive and tell their story. Riveting. Thank you for sharing.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    I have not read that one. For me, as a very privileged US citizen, this would be a very difficult read (for me). There are moments when the current swirling toxic atmosphere threatens to consume but I know that in these “latter days” there is One Who is yet in control and I am to be here and seek Him for the “assignment”. I have read other books with such topics and have no words to express how to comprehend the fact that there are so many who live their lives threatened with horrendous consequences for uttering “wrong” sentiments versus we who, up till recently, felt safe in expressing our deepest held beliefs. We must not take this for granted for it is perilously close to slipping away.

  4. I haven’t read this one and would definitely have to be in the right mood to read it. I just finished a collection of Pat Conroy’s letters and speeches and now I want to read more of his work. He was a Lowcountry dweller and lived both on Fripp Island and in Beaufort so it is very timely to read his books while we are here.

  5. Thanks for reminding me about this book!

  6. Valerie Says:

    That’s so interesting Audrey…I just finished “The Girl With Seven Names”, also a North Korean’s defector’s story and I read it in two days (just two weeks ago) and couldn’t put it down. It, too, made me grateful in so many ways.

  7. Almost Iowa Says:

    This book opened my eyes wide as political rhetoric runs rampant.

    Rampant political rhetoric is a sign of tension which may or may not be unhealthy. What makes politics unhealthy is when we try to defeat the other side without correcting our own errors.

    In this political atmosphere, health is won by focusing on our flaw rather than the flaws of “the other side’.

  8. Looks like this needs to be on my Must Read List! Sounds fascinating!

  9. Bella Says:

    I have not but thanks for the book recommend and grateful for your friendship and HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU

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