In 1960, Masaji Ishikawa, then only 13 years old, moved with his parents and three younger sisters from Japan to North Korea, or in the other words, to the “promised land”.
“My family was poor, but my childhood days in Mizonokuchi were the happiest of my life,” writes Ishikawa at the start of his book.
Being half-Korean from his father’s side, and half-Japanese through his mother, Ishikawa was born between two worlds, and unfortunately, the tension between those worlds was unbearable back then. He and his family endured hard times in Japan, mostly because of Mr. Ishikawa’s father who was a brute, also called the “Tiger”. The life they had in Japan, however, was incomparable with the life they were going to have in North Korea—as they would soon discover.
As the author remembers throughout the book, the Japanese were insulting towards Koreans, saying that they are just a “bunch of barbarians”, or “poor and unkept like gorillas”, and later, when the family moved to North Korea, Koreans were saying that Japanese people are “Japanese bastards”. This is, however, just a little fraction of unfairness the Ishikawa family experienced, and with these circumstances, they were unable to achieve a peaceful life.
Looking back at his life, one from many tragic moments was when Mr. Ishikawa’s father had bought a pig, a chicken, and a sheep to feed his family. Unfortunately, a jealous neighbour decided to report him, and the police almost killed him for the purchase.
Mr. Ishikawa’s life is breathtaking. He experienced such bad conditions, which most of us wouldn’t be able to handle. With detailed descriptions of his life in North Korea, we see the miserable moments he, his loved ones and people who lived there had to go through.
We will read about the enviousness, betrayal, or even about the dreadful famine which happened between the years of 1994 and 1998 and killed something between 240,000 to 3.5 million people. The emotions will take us from sadness upon the lives of so many people to feelings of anger because of people who let this atrocity happen.
After the escape to Japan, Mr. Ishikawa remembers: “When I’m eating something considered a basic food in Japan—far simpler than anything most Japanese people eat, plain rice, let’s say—I look at it and wonder how many meals it would provide in North Korea. And not just how many meals, but how many days of meals.”
The reason why the book is important is because it shows us the atrocities happening in the world. The author writes his memoirs in a brilliant way, and we will end up with thoughts about life in North Korea for a very long time.