Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.
Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.
This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.
Kindle, 374 pages
Published March 5th, 2019
by Simon & Schuster
This is my first time reading anything by Lisa See, The Island of Sea Women released earlier this month and was my introduction to HF taking place in Korea.
Taking place on a small island off the coast of Korea this book opened my eyes to the vast history and extraordinary events that were totally unfamiliar to me. Following the lives of best friends, Mi-ja and Young-sook, the author drew from the pages of history to weave a wonderful story. Beginning in the 1930s the country goes through so much as does the relationship of these 2 girls/women.
I learned so much with this read. Having never heard of a haenyeo before I found it fascinating that such an occupation existed. The Japanese occupation and other atrocities of war gave a vivid picture of the struggles and hardships the residents faced.
The research into this book was evident and the author notes wonderful - yes pages of them and well worth the read.
The Island of Sea Women is a story of friendship, survival, relationships and so much more. Definitely an author I will read more of and highly recommend to those who like HF off the beaten track.
Yesterday I had the privilege of attending an author event with Lisa See and it was wonderful. I read this book in anticipation and was pleased to hear more about it.
My thanks to Simon & Schuster for an advanced copy (via Netgalley) in exchange for honest review.