review by Katie Schweitzer
9 Mar 2022. For our most recent book club we read The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See.
<– Watch the video to hear about the origins of The Island of Sea Women told by author Lisa See who visited us during our book club!
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It told the story of two friends set on an island of Korea called Jeju. The story was told specifically through the frame of the society’s focus on women as breadwinners through diving, and the tumultuous period in history for Korea in the 20 th century.
Everyone really enjoyed the book even though there were some difficult parts to read due to the traumatic events that took place.
However, the main highlight of the evening was that we were able to talk with the author herself because she joined our book club through a video call! She gave us some background on how she got interested in the topic of the haenyeo (women divers) and all the research she did to make the book a reality.
We were all very impressed the breadth of knowledge she has accumulated for this and her other books. She also shed light on the writing process itself, for example, how she wanted to focus this book on the theme of forgiveness. We had a great discussion with her about the book and characters, all while enjoying some Korean snacks.
“A stupendous multigenerational family saga, See’s latest also provides an enthralling cultural anthropology highlighting the soon-to-be-lost, matriarchal haenyeo phenomenon and an engrossing history of violently tumultuous twentieth-century Korea. A mesmerizing achievement. See’s accomplishment, acclaim, and readership continue to rise with each book, and interest in this stellar novel will be well stoked.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Lisa See excels at mining the intersection of family, friendship and history, and in her newest novel, she reaches new depths exploring the matrifocal haenyeo society in Korea, caught between tradition and modernization. This novel spans wars and generations, but at its heart is a beautifully rendered story of two women whose individual choices become inextricably tangled.”
—Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light and Small Great Things
From the Back Cover
Set on the Korean island of Jeju, The Island of Sea Women follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the era of cellphones and wet suits for the women divers—Mi-ja and Young-sook develop the closest of bonds. Nevertheless, their differences are impossible to ignore: Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marking her, and Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers. After hundreds of dives and years of friendship, forces outside their control will push their relationship to the breaking point.
This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a unique and unforgettable culture, 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 female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.