In Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I found my innermost thoughts, buried up until now, resurface and paraded out in the open. The vulnerability of peeling one’s own self in front of a stranger, to have them gently poke through the litany of feelings and to understand that they’re valid and worthy of existing encompass the idea behind this book.
There’s a difference between pain and suffering. You’re going to have to feel pain–everyone feels pain at times,–but you don’t have to suffer so much. You’re not choosing the pain, but you’re choosing the suffering.
We get to peek into psychotherapist Lori’s world, through her patients we see life play out in different forms, through their interactions we see how pain and misery paired together drown our hopes but we also learn to overcome our troubles, to not be defined by our problems and find an escape route. The duality of the novel isn’t lost on the reader; it reinstates the belief in seeking help, in knowing one’s not untouchable. Perhaps the biggest twist in the book, one that’s a pretty obvious plot, is Lori seeking therapy when her own life falls apart. This, according to me, transforms the reading experience into a more intimate setting where the author, despite being the provider, allows us to accept one’s fragility, dismantling the existing stereotypes about therapy and painting an almost voyeuristic picture of the workings therapy.
I can see why May You Should Talk To Someone struck a chord with many a readers; it provides a blueprint into other people’s lives which helps us understand and live vicariously through them, pulling us into a whirlwind of emotions where we’re forced to confront our own fears, our deepest insecurity and maybe, offer a glimpse to get to know ourselves better.
Once we know where what we’re feeling, we can make choices about where we want to go with them. But if we push them away the second they appear, often we end up veering off in the wrong direction, getting lost yet again in the land of chaos.
A Burning, as the name itself, burns with a fire so strong, one continues to feel its warmth long after it’s been doused.
Megha Majumdar’s propulsive debut novel holds up a mirror to the current political scenario, offering a kaleidoscopic canvas into lives of contemporary India’s most neglected, weaving a realistic account of hyper-nationalism, right-wing politics & hunger for power. An innocent Facebook post by Jivan, a young muslim woman, leads to brandishing her as a terrorist. She is immediately linked to the recent terrorist bombing on a train that killed many. Her fate rests in the hands of PT Sir and Lovely, who belong to different classes of society, unaware that their lives are intricately intertwined in an unfortunate thread. Narrated by alternate POVs, the novel races in a rhythm that’s both breathtaking and intense, traversing across the murkiest side of right-wing electioneering and chest-thumping nationalism.
If anything, A Burning blurs the distinction between reality and fiction focusing on the similarities one finds in today’s India. Communal hatred, widespread lynchings, unlawful arrests of activists and protesters, muzzling freedom of speech and targeting minorities are few of the many themes Megha intelligently covers. Through its characters, the novel propels itself forward; we see immense will power in Lovely, a hijra who aspires to be an actor and knows Jivan, we see how power corrupts, and reduces one’s identity as PT Sir tries to lift himself up from the shackles of his meagre, despondent fortuity. Lastly, we see Jivan, confined against her wishes, a mere puppet at the hands of those in power, ready to be slaughtered.
We’ve seen gross misuse of justice which seems to be prevailing everywhere. Megha highlights the perils one is forced to undergo in the face of hopelessness, fear and utter disregard for human lives. While Jivan rots in jail, there’s a media circus and politicians baying to make someone their scapegoat for political gain and colossal power. The end was inevitable. I still hoped against hope, as one often does when faced with no option, that there would be a shift, a sudden unnatural escape route. But alas, life isn’t a series of happy coincidences, is it?
A Burning, as the name itself, burns with a fire so strong, one continues to feel its warmth long after it’s been doused.
When psychiatrist, Nawal El Sadwai, visits Qanatir prison in Egypt while conducting research into the neurosis of Egyptian women, she hears about Firdaus, a prisoner who is unlike any other inmates.
It’s my fourth attempt at writing a review for this book. How do I even describe, let alone give my two cents about a story that’s as real as the sky, a story that discusses systemic oppression, the poison that is patriarchy, and how women continue to suffer at the hands of men who they put their trust in?
When psychiatrist, Nawal El Sadwai, visits Qanatir prison in Egypt while conducting research into the neurosis of Egyptian women, she hears about Firdaus, a prisoner who is unlike any other inmates. She does not want forgiveness, nor has she spoken to anyone. She has been accused of murder & is sentenced to die. Despite several attempts, Firdaus refuses to see Nawal. But then one day, the silence lifts as Firdaus calls for her. Here begins a long narration into a life of betrayals, torture, sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle, the man she fell in love with, and every other man that came after. Firdaus begins her story from the start. Born into a poor family, and a father who was no less than a tyrant, Firdaus barely had one meal a day. Her mother was abused, beaten brutally, & starved for the most part, just like her children. Woman At Point Zero is a difficult read, not in terms of how its written, but what it portrays—women at the mercy of men, living & breathing at their command, left when they no longer serve their purpose. It hits hard because the reality isn’t very far from it. A particular scene from the book, for some reason, is etched in my mind, clear as a painting. When Firdaus was young, food was scarce. Her father would come home at night and demand the food be given to him irrespective of whether there was enough for the rest of the family. The children would sit around him staring as he put large pieces of food in his mouth, looking directly at them, and eating while the children starved. He would wipe off the tiniest bits from his plate and go off to sleep. It broke my heart, just like several other instances.
Firdaus, swung like a pendulum, exploited by those who took pleasure enabled by the skewed power dynamics, socio-economic disparity & because they could. She was married off to a man much older than her, who sexually abused her, kept an eye on everything she did, and beat her whenever he felt like. Firdaus ran away only to end up being betrayed by another man. Fate led her to finally be at peace with herself but it was short-lived.
This work of creative non-fiction, translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata is a powerful read about resistance, systemic oppression, gender disparity & lack of autonomy given to women.
My only issue with the book was the translation. There were a lot of repetitions, even though I understand, creative liberty was at the forefront, it still didn’t seem like it fit into the narrative.
I’m running up the stairs with as much speed as I can humanly muster. Pandemic or no pandemic, I’m always a little late. I frantically ring the doorbell, my mother opens the door surprised to see me, I run past her, grab my mask and head down again. They say, do not step out without a mask. Well, it’s going to take a couple of years to get used to that.
We’re in the 5th month of the lockdown. Covid cases are exponentially rising with India becoming the third country to have the highest number surpassing Russia. With the ease of lockdown restrictions, we’ve become complacent, the initial fear slowly losing its intensity, replaced with dispassionate concerns. How long should one be careful? How much precaution is too much precaution? It’s almost like we’re gambling with our lives; leaving everything up to fate, a chance that we might be safe, that even though the virus is inching closer, it cannot touch us. Many might argue wearing masks is a pain, and I’d agree, it is. But I would also like to have more years to look forward to with my family in the pink of their health and I think I can sacrifice my comfort to be able to afford it.
The pandemic has shattered well-built structures, reducing them to redundancy. Schools have transformed overnight to digital platforms. I see my brother half-asleep in his pyjamas, hair dishevelled, barely sitting straight, scrambling to get ready to attend online classes. I wonder if the children retain anything. The stress of homework is exacerbated with getting used to technology. The students who are privileged with fully-functioning computers & access to an internet connection can be part of the ‘new normal’. What about others? If anything, the pandemic has exposed the huge class barrier prevalent in our education system.
Everyone has been left way worse than one could have imagined. I can’t help but laugh( it’s more of a helpless laughter) when I think of the mental plans I had made when the year started. ‘This year just feels right,’ I exclaimed, looking at my friends, drunk on the idea of making a mark. Here I am, trying to get through every day without completely losing it. Loss, seems to be the primary emotion. While I can’t compare this feeling to the thousands of lives lost due to the pandemic, there’s an immense sense of grief for all the things that could be. It’s a collective breaking down of who we were before the pandemic cast a shadow on our lives, and who we’re becoming, transitioning into strangers we can no longer recognise.
The world order, if there was any, has changed. Stepping out of the house requires a mental gymnastics of sorts which includes several layers of protective gear and requires the perseverance & indomitable will to tick off grocery lists. Most of my time is spent aimlessly scrolling through social media, getting infuriated by the government, spending hours trying to find the right mask, looking at various disinfectants, screaming at members of the family to be more cautious, giving in to my mom’s totkas of increasing immunity and questioning the purpose of all of the above activities.
I read the other day that ‘pandemic fatigue‘ is real. I am relieved there’s a name to this restlessness. I wake up tired, dragging myself to pretend to look forward to what the day has to offer. I am usually very excited to hit the bed but falling asleep is another game of hide & seek. It’s a vicious cycle. Things I love indulging in have started to become irritants; nudging and poking and demanding to be dealt with. For someone who heavily relies on social media for work, I seem to have taken a step back. The constant barrage of information, pictures & selfies finally took its toll. The only respite in the midst of a crashing-down-of-everything-I-believed-would-stand-concrete is burying my face in books. But something has shifted in the genre of books I pick up too. I no longer revel in dystopia because real life seems to uncannily resemble what I believed would be restricted to only fiction. I reach for books with a ‘happily ever after’ as its primary objective, actively reading books of hope, of family and anything that does not involve dying.
The venerable pandemic-induced question keeps knocking at the door: What is the point of anything? Was there ever a point? If the new social order looks like this, I wonder if years of feeding off of lies was worth it.
Sairish Hussain’s riveting debut novel is an emotional tale of a family reeling from unexplainable loss and the circumstances affecting them.
I spent 3 days hungrily devouring pages of The Family Tree, my eyes tracing the words that take up this 500 page novel, lifting me up, holding me by the hand, whispering sweet lullabies, and urging to feel, to grieve, to be one with the story, and to be swayed away with the characters. At the end of the novel, I felt gratified.
The Family Tree traces the life of a British Muslim Family in Bradford right from the beginning in 1993 when Amjad loses his wife Neelam during childbirth, and is left to be the sole caretaker of his son Saahil and new born baby girl, Zahra. Neelam leaves behind a pashmina shawl that has a family tree carved on it with little birds flying in beautiful harmony signifying the members of the Sharif family who are now grieving Neelam’s loss. Amjad throws himself into the whirlwind of ensuring his children get the life they deserve. This little family creates their own little heaven until the night of Saahil’s graduation when their life takes a sinister turn. Soon everything they’ve painstakingly built comes crashing down, like strong waves carrying them away from the shore.
Sairish has woven an intricate story about a family struggling to put together the fragmented pieces of their life, persevering through tragedy & still hoping against hope. It’s commendable how the author has portrayed a coming-of-age character arc for Zahra who grows up to be a smart, sensible and fierce woman. The book takes us through 20 years of major political changes that have changed the discourse on terrorism, identity, culture, race & homelessness as the backdrop while the family grieves on its own. Sairish represented muslims as they are, which makes me feel closer to the characters, as I see glimpses of my stay in Pakistan, the cultural similarities, the familiarity of knowing one belongs in this cosmic world. Growing up my idea about writing was overtaken by the lack of representation and it makes my heart so happy whenever I read about issues that pertain to me, that affect me personally.
I was rooting for Zahra, for Saahil, for Ehsan. I cried with them, and laughed along at their jokes. The Family Tree is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about life and what makes us human.
Author: Sairish Hussain
Publisher: HQ Stories
Your roots can always lead you home…
Amjad cradles his baby daughter in the middle of the night. He has no time to mourn his wife’s death. Saahil and Zahra, his two small children, are relying on him. Amjad vows to love and protect them always.
Years later, Saahil and his best friend, Ehsan, have finished university and are celebrating with friends. But when the night turns dangerous, its devastating effects will ripple through the years to come.
Zahra’s world is alight with politics and activism. But she is now her father’s only source of comfort, and worries she’ll never have time for her own aspirations. Life has taken her small family in different directions – will they ever find their way back to each other?
The Family Tree is the moving story of a British Muslim family full of love, laughter and resilience as well as all the faults, mistakes and stubborn loyalties which make us human
NY Times journalists broke the burgeoning Harvey Weinstein story, ending his career, and opening floodgates for change.
For months, journalists, Megan Kantor & Jodi Twohey collected hard evidence against Hollywood’s infamous and one of the most powerful producers, Harvey Weinstein, who apart from sexual harassing actresses also systemically abused & raped several of his employees. It took several late nights and early mornings for the two NYT journalists to get witnesses to speak on record. Weinstein’s legacy, his minions holding important positions in the media, the law and in Hollywood itself, kept him shielded. It’s a gross violation of a person’s autonomy, misuse of power that enabled the producer to continue as long as he did. With brilliant narrative spanning credible accounts of victim’s testimony, acquiring the contracts that legally bought the victims’ silence, Megan & Jodi fought to get the truth out in the open. Not just this, they were constantly surveilled & harassed by Weinstein, blocking every move, threatening every victim they spoke to.
Some of the weapons intended to fight sexual harassment were actually enabling it
News of Harvey’s sexual predatory opened floodgates in several parts of the world. The #MeToo movement exposed powerful men who continued to take advantage of women luring them into the promise of a career. Men like Weinstein thrive because he has supporters who enable this behavior. The lives of these women and several others who have spoken up has tremendously changed. From being threatened to having their careers ruined, women ultimately take the hit. Dr. Ford who was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Judge, Brett Kavannaugh, still finds it difficult to get out of her house.
Even though Megan & Jodi’s work is monumental, the question still remains; what and how much has changed systemically? It’s also something both the journalists wonder. Were their efforts fruitful? As more and more women speak up, what is being done to ensure proper justice is met? I believe it’s a question we all have no answers to.
I would highly recommend reading She Said. It’s an important book that gives an insight into lives of the accused & their privilege & those who face the brunt of it.
Author: Megan Twohey & Jodi Kantor
On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey–and then the world changed. For months Kantor and Twohey had been having confidential discussions with top actresses, former Weinstein employees and other sources, learning of disturbing long-buried allegations, some of which had been covered up by onerous legal settlements. The journalists meticulously picked their way through a web of decades-old secret payouts and nondisclosure agreements, pressed some of the most famous women in the world–and some unknown ones–to risk going on the record, and faced down Weinstein, his team of high-priced defenders, and even his private investigators.
But nothing could have prepared them for what followed the publication of their Weinstein story. Within days, a veritable Pandora’s Box of sexual harassment and abuse was opened, and women who had suffered in silence for generations began coming forward, trusting that the world would understand their stories. Over the next twelve months, hundreds of men from every walk of life and industry would be outed for mistreating their colleagues. But did too much change–or not enough? Those questions plunged the two journalists into a new phase of reporting and some of their most startling findings yet.
With superlative detail, insight, and journalistic expertise, Kantor and Twohey take us for the first time into the very heart of this social shift, reliving in real-time what it took to get the story and giving an up-close portrait of the forces that hindered and spurred change. They describe the surprising journeys of those who spoke up–for the sake of other women, for future generations, and for themselves–and so changed us all.
A south-korean woman’s plight seems to mirror that of several women all across the world.
Translated by Jamie Chang
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo is a story chronicling a woman’s desperate attempt at escaping endemic sexism. Kim’s life & her struggle mirror several women of our previous generations, and unfortunately, this generation too. Kim is every little girl who has had to adjust, be more responsible, do chores that her brother of the same age isn’t required to do. She’s every woman starting her career exposed to objectifying, reduced to only menial jobs, whereas men her age, are promoted & considered naturally more competent. She’s every woman who has had to sacrifice her career to raise a child, giving up on her individuality & forced into a life stripped of meaning.
Kim is a 33-year-old woman who has started behaving differently. She’s taken on the identity of women in her past life, blurting out words considered inappropriate for family gatherings. She’s taken to a psychiatrist who then lays bare Kim’s journey in a linear fashion.
As the novel progresses, we learn of Jiyoung’s descent into dissociative order. Right from her childhood where boys being mean to her was explained as their likeness towards her to applying for jobs only to be repeatedly rejected to facing workplace sexism. It’s a book that opens up layers and layers of systemic misogyny exposing the hypocrisy and injustice women are expected to endure. Kim’s husband, albeit cognizant of his wife’s predicament, is complicit. He merely refuses to acknowledge his own privilege, shrugging off any attempt at reversing the gender roles. In fact, he easily fits into them. The subtle nuances in the novel explain the ongoing battle women continue to face, the suffocation and uneasiness slowly crawling in on you as you trace Kim’s road to complete madness.
Cho Nam-Joo’s brilliant narrative rooted in fiction but peppered with substantial facts (as footnotes) unmasks South-Korea’s gender disparity despite technological advances and developments. For instance, the Huju system where the children were strictly registered under the patriarchal lineage was abolished only in 2008 to female feticide, preference of the boy child to sacrificing one’s career to further that of their brother or husbands are still pretty much a ground reality.
This book, a culmination of fiction & reality, puts forward the triteness and nefariousness of gender discrimination that seems to share a common ground in every country, inciting collective rage and call to action.
Author: Cho Nam-Joo
Translation: Jamie Chang
Publisher: Sceptre Books
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night. Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely. Kim Jiyoung is depressed. Kim Jiyoung is mad.
Kim Jiyoung is her own woman. Kim Jiyoung is every woman
There is gentleness in Zeba’s intimate story; the fragile relationship with her mother, the silences lingering between them, the possessive nature only a child can have for a parent, the way Zeba would want to know her mother’s movement, watching her like a hawk. Zeba grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but both her parents were from India. This meant spending summer vacations in a small town in Karnataka, going back and forth between Sirsi( her mother’s home) and honnavar, where her dad grew up. In one of the many instances of growing up in a traditional household where the man works and the woman takes charge of domestic work, Zeba’s mother was preparing for a party but accidentally hurt herself. She was in immense pain and Zeba called her father from work. But in the evening, the guests arrived, exotic delicacies were served, the party went on as if nothing happened. The slow unraveling of the roles society has forced upon women was not lost on Zeba. Throughout her memoir, she wonders about the silence that existed in her house, so many instances where her mama resorted to maintaining peace in the family instead of confronting the wrongs. The grip of patriarchy and the unreal societal expectations that continue to suppress women, often leaning towards the adage of men being without reproach. Zeba’s dissent meant a direct insult to motherhood. It was a constant pull and push, where the fear existed between a mother and daughter, further alienating them from each other.
Growing up, the author talks about the differences in her life as compared to India. The moral police restricted the movement of women, where freedom was only a myth and since she was from a South-Asian heritage, she felt like she didn’t belong. Expressing her precarious place in Jeddah meant committing blasphemy & so Zeba kept to herself. When Zeba’s hair started thinning, her mother was appalled. She was taken to several doctors who prescribed myriad remedies, treatments & surgeries. A lot of importance is given to conventional standards of beauty especial in South-Asian communities, as if beauty alone can absolve one of sins. Naturally, the author faced bullying mainly from her relatives who wanted a piece of gossip. Zeba took to wearing her headscarf and didn’t let this define her life.
In between standing up for herself, and moving to India for her graduation to pursuing MA in publishing in Germany to later moving to UK, Zeba talks about her faith, being a Muslim feminist in a world that’s hell bent on saving ‘Muslim women’, racism, lack of representation and radical selfcare. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Zeba tenderly discusses the ramifications of patriarchy on the generation of our mothers and also the generation that has come after. We’re still reeling from the shackles put in place, often putting each other down, when the problem has never been us.
I was rooting for Zeba, cheering her on whenever she felt stuck, but I was rooting for her mother too. The silence that stretched between them, ended when her mother spoke for her. It broke so many layers of oppression because one woman decided it would end here. For the many women who have come before us, and the many woman who decided to choose their own path, I hope we continue to find the courage to be ourselves in a world that’s trying hard to stifle our voice. I felt seen, I felt represented, I felt I didn’t need to pander to values I didn’t believe in and for that I’m really grateful to Zeba.
I started freelancing last year & ever since, pitching articles has always been the most intimidating process for me. Now that I have applied to multiple places, multiple times, it’s no longer as difficult as it appeared earlier.
If you’re thinking of pitching to magazines or online publications, here are a few tips to keep in mind!
Only having an article idea isn’t enough. You have to research and be able to back it up with facts. Once you have an idea, spend a day or two mulling over it, looking up for sources online, or making sure your idea is unique or hasn’t already been attempted. It’s important to ensure you’re invested in the article to be able to write from the heart.
Understand the requirements:
Before you start sending out pitches, please go through the magazine websites to familiarize yourself with their submission guidelines, the kind of articles they publish, and whether or not they’re commissioning articles at the moment. A lot of the times a magazine already has enough materials & they’re not looking for articles. You can pitch the same article to multiple magazines if they fit the submission guidelines. Prepare in advance: This is something I prefer doing but you can choose to skip it. If I’m sure of the publication I want to pitch an article to, I always have a first draft written. It gives me an idea of what the article will look like, the estimated word count, and the structure. This is helpful when you sit down to write the email.
If you’re starting out, look for publications that accept writing samples that are not published. Most of them want experienced writers who have had their articles published somewhere. But it’s okay, don’t feel disheartened. There are several more platforms where you can submit unpublished writing samples.
When you’re attaching the writing samples, choose the ones that mirror the ideology and style of the publication or is the closest to their agenda. You may write a sample that fits their requirement if you really want to hear from them( but it’s not mandatory).
Now that we have the basics out of the picture, let’s get down to writing that cover pitch.
Mention the name of the article in your subject line. The editors are flooded with emails everyday and they mostly don’t spend much time on a single email. To make it easier for them, it’s better to write the title of the article and get it over with.
Now every submission guideline is different, but most publications want you to give a short summary of 50 words explaining what the article is about. Here is where your creativity and email writing skills come to use. Is it a personal essay or a feature or literary criticism? Why should they publish your article? What is unique about your story? What will be the target audience? Why will the readers want to read it? The idea is to perk the editor’s interest in the beginning itself. Be as direct as possible.
· Estimated word count
Remember how I asked you to have the first draft ready? Here is where it comes to use. Giving an estimate word count is always helpful and prepares the editor. A lot of magazines require you to give the word count.
· Offer a proposed deadline:
Don’t be too ambitious & say you’ll submit the article in a day. But think carefully and give a proposed deadline. This makes the editor feel you’re not fooling around and that you’re serious about the work. Your deadline will also depend on your research; the people you want to interview, the field-work (if any) required for your article.
• Attach your writing samples, preferably 2-3.
Magazines or any online publication receive hundreds of emails every day which makes it humanly impossible to reply immediately. If you haven’t received a reply, send a polite follow-up email, inquiring about the pitch you sent. A lot of editors don’t revert, so take this as a reply, and try sending out more pitches. But do not be disrespectful and hound them.
· Be patient:
These are just tips. At the end of the day, your writing is what’s going to get you that writing gig. A lot of the times, it gets frustrating and you may want to give up. But that’s part of being a writer. Just keep at it.
I hope the above tips were helpful. If you’ve got something more to add, please let me know!
One man’s escape from the hermit kingdom, North Korea
Translated by Martin Brown & Rise Koyabashi
I looked up the author online. That’s the first thing I did when I finished reading the book. There’s no trace of him anywhere. No clue as to how the book came into being. As Masaji writes in his memoir, he felt invisible in North Korea, people looked through him, as if he wasn’t there. And in real life too, perhaps, he is invisible.
In what can be called a cursed fate, Masaji’s world was divided as soon as he was born; His mother was Japanese and his drunk, wife-beating, abusive father was Korean. He spent most of his childhood in Japan where his family lived from meal to meal but there was dignity in his daily life. During 1950s mass propaganda by the Japanese government led to most Koreans living in Japan to believe that North Korea was ‘a paradise on land’, ‘a land of milk and honey’ , where ‘a first-class education for your children’ was guaranteed. Most Koreans were racially discriminated, poverty gnawing at them at every step. Naturally, the promise of a better life, and most importantly, food, was enough for people to reconsider. Kim Sung II proclaimed he was building a socialist utopia known as the Chollima Movement. This period saw mass repatriation, in fact the only time in history where people moved from a capitalist country to a socialist country. When Masaji’s father announced they were repatriating to North Korea, he knew it would be the end of his family.
North Korea is a totalitarian government, functioning on mass paranoia of people, uncontrollable propaganda, barbaric laws and policies that get you killed, or sent to camps as political prisoners for being a ‘capitalist’ or a ‘liberal’. Since Masaji wasn’t born in NK, he knew what a liberal democracy looked like unlike the people living there. They were brainwashed to become slaves to a pseudo -religious cult as soon as they were born and came to revere their supreme leader as god. Masaji’s life only got worse. Starvation was the number one reason. There just wasn’t enough to eat. They barely scrapped through by boiling rice gruels, eating tree barks, sometimes cabbage that had rotten, other times stealing or picking up leftovers from trashcans. Since they had moved from Japan, they were called ‘returnees’, the lowest of the lows. Despite over-working, they barely got enough food ration. His family was barely surviving, the bodies of his children looked like skeletons. That’s when he decided to escape North Korea, after 36 years. Masaji left his family in hopes for a better life in Japan but his home country didn’t do anything for him either. There’s still no information if he was able to get his family back with him. His wife died a futile death, waiting for him. I have no idea where his children are. I want to say that the book is a testimony to indomitable human spirit but why must humans be reduced to such a pitiful state? Why are thousands upon thousands of North Koreans surviving because they have nowhere else to go? It’s a gross violation of human rights and absolute contempt of a county for its citizens. It’s a harrowing tale of one man’s escape from the evil, evil country that is North Korea