Can you imagine being a mother separated from your son during a time of war and even 50 years later not knowing what has happened to him? That’s the situation many Koreans faced when the country was divided in two shortly after World War II.
In Absence of Sun by Helie Lee tells her family’s story of trying to unite with her uncle who as a young man was unable to get out of North Korea. Their journey includes meetings across the Yalu River, dealing with North Korean guards, being under suspicion, and a daring escape.
The story told in this book is directly linked to Lee’s first book, Still Life with Rice. The first book recounts Lee’s grandmother’s escape from northern Korea and the separation from her eldest son. Lee used her uncle’s real name in Still Life with Rice and once the book was released in South Korea, Lee was told the book had put her uncle and his family in danger. At that point, Lee became even more determined to reunite her family.
The book is a fascinating one, giving a glimpse of what life is like in North Korea. But one aspect of the book that I found especially fascinating was how Lee was perceived by other Koreans. As woman of Korean descent who was raised in America, Lee fails to fit the mold of what’s expected of a Korean woman. And at times interaction is a struggle for her. It was interesting to see how even a person raise in a Korean American household was different from Koreans brought up in Korea.
I must admit that I haven’t read Still Life with Rice. I started it and got a few chapters in when it began recounting the mistreatment of a disable relative. I just couldn’t get past that part. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve read worse, but for some reason this really bothered me. I plan to try again because I hear the book is very good. Maybe now that know this is in there, it won’t be so shocking to me.