Tragic. Heartbreaking. Powerful. Riveting. Brutal. These are some of the words that readers have used to describe Masaji Ishikawa’s memoir A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea. First published in Japan in 2000, the book spans Ishikawa’s entire life, from his birth in Japan in 1947 to his escape from North Korea in 1996. What happens in between is a harrowing and critical look at what it means to live in a totalitarian state.
At the beginning of this year, my goal was to read 24 books by the end of the year. With only a couple days left in 2017, I throw in the towel. Although I didn’t hit the goal, I’m happy to report that I read 17 novels this year! A great jumpstart to getting back into reading. I’m looking forward to doing even better numbers next year. In the meantime, I take some time to look back on what I read this year.
I had a nice little blogging streak going, and then I fell off the wagon. There are a ton of things I could blame: work, family, travel, friends in town, blah, blah, blah, blah. But the truth is, I just don’t care about what I’m writing, so it’s all disposable. Offline, I’ve been working on short stories, and those aren’t working out either. It all feels so dissatisfying, and who wants to set time aside for writing when it’s not enjoyable?
Enter National Novel Writing Month, an opportunity to join a community of people blasting through what’ll become the first draft of their novels. I’ve heard about it before, friends have recommended it, and I’d always thought about doing it, but there was always some reason not to. The idea is simple; write a 50,000-word novel. Making it a quantitative vs. qualitative goal makes the process more accessible and attainable for me, a first-time novel-writer. I mean, I’m pretty sure I get through way more than 50K words in just a week’s worth of work emails. This will be a cinch.
I’m not a hoarder, but I have hoarding tendencies. For years I dragged around the debris of my former life from apartment to apartment. I packed the detritus into closets and garages, boxes and bags. Occasionally, I’d dip into the memories and laugh or cry myself to sleep. The junk brought me comfort somehow, it was the only witness to the things I had lived through or the people I ‘d met in my life.
That all began to change when I met my now husband. We’ve been together almost ten years now, and he’s taught me to simplify and live a more minimalist lifestyle. I’ve learned that you can appreciate the past without having to drag around a bunch of stuff. Subsequently, I’ve managed to pare down my mementos from closetfuls to a single box. That means I’ve had to be selective about what I kept and what I tossed.
The most notable item to make the cut was the only diary I’ve ever kept in my whole entire life. The notebook was part of an Easter basket my sister had given to me. The journal covers the span of five years from March 31, 1991, to September 9, 1996; I went from a nine-year-old to a fourteen-year-old. The entries begin pretty tamely, describing what I ate that day or what I watched, but then things heat up with my detailed descriptions of who I was crushing on at the moment. Even then I was a creature of habit, and after reading hundreds of pages of adolescent angst, a few themes arose as I read.