Synopses & Reviews
A breathtaking true story of a rescue mission undertaken by a young woman and her family in one of the most repressive countries in the world.
Helie Lee often had heard her grandmother speak of an uncle, lost decades ago when he was a child during the familys daring escape from North Korea. As an adult, he was still living there under horrid conditions. When her grandmother began to ail, Helie became determined to reunite her with her eldest son, despite tremendous odds. Helies mission became even more urgent when she realized that her first book, the bestselling novel Still Life with Rice, about the familys escape, might have angered the North Korean government and put her uncle in danger.
Pushing through rivers and forests, fighting the cold, bribing and manipulating border guards, gangsters, and secret service agents, Helie and her father finally achieve their goal. But there are many hurdles. Her uncle is forced to make a harrowing choice: leave his North Korean family behind or continue to live in oppression and starvation away from his beloved mother. And Helie has to face her deep, sometimes ambivalent, emotions about her identity in the family and as a Korean American woman. Unmarried and outspoken, she struggles in Korea, where women marry early and keep silent, and writes eloquently about the landscape there, both literal and cultural. She comes through a heartbreaking love affair only to face an intense and confusing relationship with the Guide—the man who, despite being crude and macho, ultimately helps to save her uncle and eventually his extended family through several daring acts of heroism.
In the Absence of Sun is a riveting adventure story and a powerful tale of family bonds and reunion.
“An eerie fear crawled through my flesh as I stood on the Chinese side of the Yalu River, gazing across the murky water into one of the most closed-off and isolated countries in the world. I couldnt believe it. Even as my boots sank into the doughy mud, I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that I was actually standing there. . . . I was not prepared for the kind of despair and insane fear I felt that day. My wizened old uncle looked nothing like the sweet-faced teenager in the faded photograph that Halmoni kept pressed between the pages of her Bible. That day, at the Yalu River, staring helplessly into his terrorized face, I hadnt fully realized what a dangerous thing I had done the year before. I had placed him and his family in danger. By including details of my uncles life in a book, I had alerted North Koreas enigmatic leadership to the identity of my relatives in a nation where it was better to remain invisible.” —From In the Absence of Sun
From the Hardcover edition.
Helie Lee's first book generated enormous publicity, not only in this country, but also in Asia. And that became a problem. Still Life with Rice told of her grandmother's life, including her extraordinary journey to bring her family south across enemy lines during the Korean War and then on to America. The book's publication angered the North Korean government, and Helie was advised that her uncle, who remained in North Korea, was in grave danger. Making a promise to her grandmother that she would see her son alive again, Helie resolved to rescue him.
In the Absence of Sun tells what happened next. Skirting the Chinese border with Korea, pushing through rivers and forests, paying off gangsters and manipulating secret service agents, Helie and her family ultimately achieved their goal. In fact, they surpassed it, freeing eight additional members of the extended family.
About the Author
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Helie Lee grew up in Los Angeles, where she now lives near her family. She lectures nationwide.
From the Hardcover edition.