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The Island of Sea Women

by Lisa See

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8796118,260 (4.18)73
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.… (more)
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English (59)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
This may be a fictional tale, but it's obvious See has done her research. The tale of Young-sook and her training in the sea, as well as her relationships with her mother and her friend Mija on the island of Jeju is rich with both character development and historical perspective. The lives of the women who make their living in this dangerous oceanic profession are fascinating but difficult and dangerous.
I read this with my book club and we were all embarassed about how little we knew of the lives of people in this area, and particularly how they were negatively affected by our government's interference in their affairs following the wars. This book is both captivating to read and important for anyone wishing to be more aware of the world. ( )
  EmScape | Jun 14, 2021 |
I don't always like Lisa See's books but I'm happy to report I can give this one 4 stars. A historical novel, it takes place on Jeju, an island off the southern coast of Korea. Young-sook's family has lived on the island for generations. Mija comes to Jeju to live with an aunt and uncle and the young girls quickly become close friends and they become sure they will remain friends for life.

Jeju was unusual in that it had a matriarchal family structure. The economy was traditionally dominated by fishing but when Younng-sook and Mija meet, the island men may work as fishermen but are not working as divers as they once did, women have taken their place. Called haenyeo, the job of "sea women" was usually passed from mother to daughter. The work was physically dangerous both due to the elements and due to their scanty resources. Goggles and knives were their only equipment, there was no apparatus for breathing support. When they dove, the women would collect abalone, conch, algae, etc. to be used as food for the family and to sell. Young-sook was proud to follow her mother and grandmother as a haenyeo and her mother, a leader among the divers, managed to get Mija accepted as well.

Their lives as friends began in the 1930s and 40s during Japanese Colonialism and we follow them through years of turmoil and hardship including WWII, and the Korean War. There is also personal turmoil as they choose husbands and begin to make decisions about how they will live as adults. In effect, this is a generational history of brave and independent women who lived very different lives than I have in a place that was unknown to me. ( )
  clue | May 23, 2021 |
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..
This was a very interesting book about the women divers of the Korean Island, Jeju. They were deep divers. and the book follows the lives of two of the divers when they were young girls through their lives as they age.
It was very moving and heartbreaking at times. I did not know about these remarkable women and very little of the history of Korea during this time. Highly recommended. ( )
  SharleneMartinMoore | Apr 24, 2021 |
The Korean “sea women” endure frigid waters to collect sea animals to sell & survive, for they are the breadwinners & heads of family on the island of Jeju, Korea. Men care for the children. I loved this matrifocal book about fiercely strong women thru the terrorizing Japanese & American occupations (read it & you’ll understand) to today. Brutal, absolutely brutal—so beware. I learned so much history in a compelling & heartbreaking story about female friendship and forgiveness under the harshest of circumstances. This edition has an interview with Lisa See and I don’t doubt her knowledge of the topic: her research was comprehensive. Beautifully written. Five stars in a heartbeat. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Mar 11, 2021 |
The Island of Sea Women is historical fiction about the women divers, or haenyeo, who live and work on the Korean Island of Jeju. It spans from the Japanese occupation in 1938 up through 2008. Mi-ja and Young-sook are baby divers and best friends. However, they have very different backgrounds. After they each marry, their relationship is tested in the ultimate way.

I enjoyed learning about the haenyeo (you watch can videos of them in action on YouTube) and the matriarchal society they live in. Because women’s bodies are better suited for diving, they are the breadwinners and the men are the main caregivers to the children. Everyone seems happy with this arrangement, which was refreshing.

That being said, this book is gut-wrenching. There is brutal violence in it that was hard to read. It’s one of those books where it feels weird to say I enjoyed it because so many terrible things happen in it. But I did like this book. I especially liked that it was full of strong women characters and I liked the historical aspect of it. Recommended. ( )
  mcelhra | Mar 1, 2021 |
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An old woman sits on the beach, a cushion strapped to her bottom, sorting algae that's washed ashore.
Quotations
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.
"Every woman who goes into the sea carries a coffin on her back. In this world, in the undersea world, we tow the burdens of this hard life."
Sometimes you must experience heartache to have a treasured result.
For a tree that has many branches, even a small breeze will shake some loose.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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