In the Absence of Sun: A Korean American Woman’s Promise to Reunite Three Lost Generations of Her Family

"Lee’s bestselling debut, Still Life with Rice (1996), created quite a stir. It chronicled Lee’s grandmother’s 1950 escape from northern to southern Korea during a civil war that separated the Koreas and tore Lee’s grandmother’s family apart, as her eldest son, Lee Yong Woon, did not make it out of the north. Lee (who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and now lives in Los Angeles) used her uncle’s real name in Still Life and included his picture. Once that book became available in South Korea, Lee’s family was notified that her book had placed her relatives in North Korea in danger. Nonetheless, Lee promised her grandmother that she would see her son again, thus undertaking a daring mission chronicled here to reunite the family." (text taken from Amazon)
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Average: 4 (1 vote)


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For novices to the treatment of North Koreans by theor own government

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 03/25/2011

Book Review: In The Absence of Sun by Helie Le
My name and information:
Terry Owens
Instructor 10-12th grade Social Studies
Pine Richland H.S.
For novices to Korean politics and the totalitarian nature of the current regime in North Korea, Helie Le’s book gives some insight. However, the real value of the story lies in understanding family relationships and the intensity of those relationships in a Korean family. This book is a sequel to an earlier book, Still Life With Rice, which chronicles Helie’s grandmother’s escape from North Korea with her children in 1953. Her grandmother manages to leave with her family intact but then loses her eldest son to the North Koreans and her husband to death. The family proceeds on to the US but Le’s grandmother ruminates about finding her son somehow and reuniting the family. This sequel is about that reunification.
The book part like a detective story and part CIA thriller as Helie tries desperately to work any angle with multiple forces in order to find her uncle and bring him and his family to South Korea. Life in North Korea, as presented by the author, is horrific and controlled. The book also reads as an expatriate version of life back home. Helie, of course, never lived in North Korea and she bases the book on letters from her uncle and family in North Korea and what she can see across the Yalu River. This is not to minimize her exposure of North Korea but just to say that no background information is given on this.
Again, the value of this book is in the understanding the reader gets about the importance of family obligations. Helie’s grandmother and her wishes are so important to the family and in a way that westerners would have trouble believing. Helie must reckon with many forces to accomplish the mission of reuniting her family not the least of which is her internal struggle as she tries to grapple with her own responsibility for the plight of her extended family and her obsession with making her grandmother happy.
Finally I would not recommend this entire book for a World History class but possibly parts of it. There are a few age inappropriate scenes between Helie and her boyfriend and Helie and her relationship with the guide who escorts her family out of North Korea. However, parts of the book could be useful for 10th through 12th graders as long as a separate account of conditions in North Korea was available as well.