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.