The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women

A Novel

Book - 2019
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"A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island. 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"--
"A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island"--
Publisher: New York :, Scribner,, 2019.
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781501154850
Branch Call Number: FICTION See Lisa 02/2019
Characteristics: v, 374 pages ;,24 cm


From Library Staff

The remarkable and heartbreaking story of female divers off the Korean island of Jeju.

JCLSarahZ Aug 11, 2020

A powerful family saga about growing up in a Matriarchal society on the remote Korean island of Jeju during the Japanese occupation. This is a well written piece of historical fiction about the amazing Sea Women of Korea. Captivating and heart-wrenching all at once.

Join us at Oak Park Branch on August 5, 2020 from 1:30-3pm for a lively discussion.

JCLJaneM and JCLRoxanneB

Tuesday, December 8 at 1:00 pm

From the critics

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Dec 26, 2020

An interesting historical account, not so interesting from a diving/ocean perspective, which I feel is the real weakness of the book. It's too bad it wasn't written by someone who actually dives....scuba/free/snorkel.. there is next to no detail on the actual diving experience. I've come away not having any idea of what the ocean was like other than what they were diving for - sea urchins, abalone, octopus. The best part is the pig latrines - didn't enjoy the interpersonal "saga" so much.

Oct 12, 2020

As a Korean born/ US raised child of the 70s, I know very little of my birthplace. This wonderful book seamlessly weaves history, culture and human experiences into a highly entertaining read set in a UNESCO world heritage site.
This is one of the best books I've read in 2020. Lisa See is truly a gifted storyteller.

Sep 21, 2020

This was an interesting book. I listened to it which I was glad to have done, because there were many Korean words in it that I would have tripped on if I had read it. The story is very educational about Korean history, the sea women, and interwoven with a story of friendship and the difficulty of forgiveness.

JCLSarahZ Aug 11, 2020

A powerful family saga about growing up in a Matriarchal society on the remote Korean island of Jeju during the Japanese occupation. This is a well written piece of historical fiction about the amazing Sea Women of Korea. Captivating and heart-wrenching all at once.

Aug 07, 2020

a surprise matriarchal society -

EverythingTouches Jul 06, 2020

Full of strong women characters and describes the rich history of the area. Enjoyed the learning about the unique culture of the island.

Feb 29, 2020

Actual rating: 4.25/5 stars!

It actually didn’t take me that long to read this book, I just became busy and put it down for a while in between start to finish. I’d say it only really took me three days to finish it.

Well written, beautiful story. I empathized with Young-sook and her experiences of love, loss and hurt. I also empathized for Joon-lee who longed for her mother to accept her. I find many authors struggle with setting the scene and forming imagery with their writing; Lisa See, however, did it perfectly. I felt like I was on Jeju island watching the hanyeo dive. I felt like I was with them during the Japanese takeover. The whole story was beautifully written. I felt so many emotions. I didn’t want the story to end, but the ending was beautiful. I look forward to reading more books by Lisa See.

Feb 18, 2020

Excellent writing & research by Lisa See on a topic you won't typically come across in historical fiction dealing with the women divers (called haenyeo), who dove for hours each day without scuba gear to earn money gathering seafood to sell to support their families. I enjoyed how she delved deeply into that topic, then spanned through the decades of the 30's-WWII, & the changes that happened on Jeju Island that were affected by Japanese colonialism. This includes the brutal mass murders that were covered up by the government - a piece of history I was unaware of. I had a hard time dealing with the negative turn that the friendship took in the book, & the somewhat predictability of that outcome, & wished she had taken it in a different direction.

Feb 07, 2020

An interesting read that focuses on the rare way of life for women divers on Jeju Island in South Korea. But I was niggled by the author’s instructional style with excessive description of cultural events like birth, marriage ceremony and death/funerals, their history, and the science of diving without breathing apparatus. The story of the two girls sweeps through the time of Japanese occupation in the ’30s and ’40s, World War II, the Korean War and into the 21st century.

Feb 04, 2020

This is one of the best books I ever read. I had written a long review but neglected to save it, so it's lost forever, and I'm not going to write another one because the people who've reviewed it here do a good job of telling what you'll read about in it. I think there's more to the story and characters than even they say, but I hope you'll figure that out for yourself by reading it. By the way, I don't tend to like the style of alternating chapters from the past and then the present and then the past, on and on. My recommendation with this one would be to find the chapter that is about the farthest past, read that one first, and keep going in chronological order, not the order in which they are presented. That's what I always do when reading books that alternate in the way this one does. But that's just me; you might like it the way it's presented.

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Jan 07, 2020

“The sea, it is said, is like a mother. The salt water, the pulse and surges of the current, the magnified beat of your heart, and the muffled sounds reverberating through the water together recall the womb.” - p. 22

Jan 07, 2020

“No one picks a friend for us; we come together by choice. We are not tied together through ceremony or the responsibility to create a son; we tie ourselves together through moments. The spark when we first meet. Laughter and tears shared. Secrets packed away to be treasured, hoarded, and protected. The wonder that someone can be so different from you and yet still understand your heart in a way no one else ever will.” - p. 36

Jan 07, 2020

“The sea is better than a mother. You can love your mother, and she still might leave you. You can love or hate the sea, but it will always be there. Forever. The sea has been the center of her life. It has nurtured her and stolen from her, but it has never left.” - p. 79

Jan 07, 2020

“They did this to me. They did that to me. A woman who thinks that way will never overcome her anger. You are not being punished for your anger. You're being punished by your anger.” - p. 350


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