A Japanese Boy Sees a New Light: Escaping from North Korea

Shu Shimizu

Publisher: Partridge Pages: 138 Price: (paperback) $13.27 ISBN: 9781543770957 Reviewed: March, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

In this lucid, well-crafted true story, Shu Shimizu relates his perilous escape from North Korea at the end of World War II.

Shimizu was living with his Japanese parents and two brothers in the northern Korean city of Kisshu, where his father worked for the Korean Railway Company, when Japan’s Emperor Hirohito surrendered on August 15,1945. After the surrender, many Japanese nationals, including the author’s family, fled, seeking to return to Japan through a port in what had now become South Korea.

Shimizu skillfully renders the ordeal through a nine-year-old’s eyes. He describes the “tall, Russian soldier” who shared “dark, Russian bread,” taught “easy, Russian words,” then tried to lure his mother into “a shabby old house.” With boyish innocence, he stares drop-jawed at a naked woman at one makeshift hospital and screams when a Korean youth tosses him a dead snake, possibly as a charitable offer of food.

Hunger, cold, fear and death are ever-present on the nine-month journey. Young Shimizu bonds with his brothers after his father succumbs to typhus. Together, they scour rice fields for overlooked grains, beg for food and hide from local “sheriffs.” On the last leg of the journey alone, they walk 100 miles through forests and fields to the border of South Korea.

Shimizu, who was in his 80s when he wrote this book, delivers a heart-racing narrative of the family’s perilous border crossing at night. Overall, however, more detail that paints a sense of place and greater insights into the author’s thoughts and emotions at the time would be welcome, as would more historical context. Included are family photographs and charming pencil illustrations by the author and his brother Toru.

Some readers might find Shimizu’s simplistic political commentary naïve; others might object that he deals lightly with Japan’s oppression of Korea.

But Shimizu sticks to his youthful point of view, making this book accessible and interesting for both adults and children nine and older.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

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