"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"--
Similar in this library
But this is all set in a place, culture, and historical time I knew little or nothing of. I’d
The most difficult aspect of the book involves political upheaval following World War II. Jeju was interested in a united Korea but the leaders and American supporters were determined to wipe out communism. The book portrays fictionalized examples of an historical event - the Bukchon massacre. This reading was difficult. I spent a lot of time on google and was horrified by the details and cover up of this era.
This is not an easy read but it captured me and is surely going to be remembered.
This was a rough story to read. I did not know much about WWII in the Pacific nor about Korea. I learned a lot. These islanders endured so much. Nature can be hard but man is brutal. She loses some she love to the sea but many more are lost to the brutality of man. Young-sook had her pride and it takes her a long time to learn forgiveness. When she does, she gains so much. The story begins in 2008 then flashes back to different periods of her life. She is a survivor but what a cost.
Lisa See's newest novel is set on the small Korean island of Jeju and is about female friendship and family secrets.
Mi-ja and Young-sook are best friends that are from vastly
The novel spans several decades and is anchored with vignettes set in 2008. These vignettes that are dispersed throughout the story provide clues that move the reader forward, but at the same time, anchor them in the past. Beginning during the Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 40s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, and in the modern era which introduces the divers to wet suits and cell phones.
Jeju's residents are caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will eventually inherit her mother’s position as their leader. The girls have shared more than just dives, they have shared life's milestones and all of their secrets. But when outside forces turn their world upside down, it become too much for their friendship to survive.
The second half of the novel chronicles the 4.3 Incident. Named for the date it began, which was April 3, 1948, three years after Japan surrendered occupation of Korea, tens of thousands of people were killed. See dramatizes the atrocities committed by the military during the Bukchon massacre in a harrowing scene in which Young-sook loses both the majority of her family and her friendship to Mi-ja.
See's novel is incredibly rich in culture and history, both of which are marred by grief and a monumental historic event. Her writing is intricate and moving, and innately female. She explores the relationships between women: mother-daughter, sister, coworker, and best friend. The best friend dynamic is a particular kind of intimacy that opens you up to betrayal because there are things that you would only tell your best friend. In her novels, it is rarely the men that bring these women any joy. Abuse of male power is also another popular theme whether it be fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers, or bosses.
Diving for fish (abelone and octopus are prized) can be dangerous, and the women work as a team to keep each other safe, but accidents do happen. Young-sook becomes betrothed to a teacher, but she is jealous that Mi-ja has captured the attention of a handsome businessman who lives in the city. Young-sook and her husband happily welcome three children into their lives. Mi-ja and her husband have a son, but Mi-ja's marriage is troubled.
The Island of Sea Women begins during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and the people of Jeju fear the soldiers. When the Korean War begins, their country is torn apart as Russia and China back North Korean communists and the United States back South Korea. See describes what became known as the 4.3 Incident, where Koreans massacred their own people, including many people on Jeju, while the Americans did nothing to stop it. It is told in horrific detail, and the losses suffered by Young-sook cause a permanent fracture between her and Mi-ja.
The book begins and ends in 2008 as a family of Americans have come to Jeju, now a popular tourist destination. A family of four are looking for anyone who knew a family member who used to be a diver on Jeju. Young-sook avoids the tourists in general, happy to just spend her time on the beach, but this family, particularly the teenage daughter, is persistent.
The Island of Sea Women"is the kind of book you get lost in, taking the reader to an unfamiliar world. See clearly did a great deal of research to create her brilliant novel (as her acknowledgments pages attest), and it adds to the authenticity of the story.
It is an emotional book, one that will bring tears to your eyes as you read about the inhumanity people inflict during war. But at its heart, it is a story of the friendship of two girls and what happens when that friendship is tested. This is a must-read book.
The descriptive bit: Women feature strongly in this novel. In particular,
My thoughts bit: It’s a pleasure to read about such strong and amazing female characters. Steeped in the traditions of their world, Mi-ja and Young-sook grow up strong and independent. They have the remarkable opportunity to grow up in a unique world in which women are the providers and men are the ones who are at home parenting the children. This book follows the intertwined lives of these two women from the time they meet at seven years old for seventy years.
Friendship… love and family are the themes in this book and it’s a remarkable adventure. Interwoven throughout the story are the losses and challenges that we face as we age. In the case of these two women, some may be harsher than what most of us have to deal with.
One of the things that I love about See’s books is how thoroughly she researches her topics. I always feel as though I’m being immersed in history. This book is no exception. I found myself searching out more information about the haenyeo and their amazing abilities.
The warnings bit: Obviously there are parts of this book that are difficult to read. These two women grew up in a time of great turmoil. There is violence, extreme poverty, fear and as there always is in life … loss.
The island referred to in the title is Jeju Island in the East China Sea off the coast of South Korea. It is home to the haenyao, women divers who use no breathing apparatus to harvest from the sea bottom. Instead they can hold their breath for 2 to 3 minutes, much more than ordinary people. This novel follows Young-sook, daughter of a haenyeo, who becomes one and her best friend, Mi-ja, an orphan who is living with an aunt and uncle on the island. Both become accomplished haenyeo but when Mi-ja marries she stops going into the sea for some time. Mi-ja's husband works for the Japanese who have colonized the island. The Japanese are hated by the islanders and so Mi-ja and her husband are viewed with suspicion. Young-sook also marries but her husband is the son of a haenyeo and he becomes a teacher on the island. While Young-sook's marriage does not provide the material wealth that Mi-ja has it is a much happier marriage. The two remain friends until a horrific incident occurs when the islanders try to protest the rule of the authoritarian South Korean government. Young-sook never forgives her friend who eventually moves away to the mainland and then to California. In 2008 Mi-ja's granddaughter visits Jeju and finds Young-sook, an old woman by then but still going into the sea some.
The novel is so well-researched that it seems like the reader (or listener) is actually there in the water with the women or sitting on the beach going through the day's catch. It also covers a large segment of time that included World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War all of which affected the islanders. It was a great way to learn some history while being transported by an excellent story.
This changed rapidly for the rest of the book. The tumultuous years of the Japanese colonialism of the 30, and 40' provided a historical and brutal context. The brutality is just terrible, the inaction of the American troops who just stood by, the massacres that were covered up for decades. So much was happening politically that in the hands of a less gifted writer, this book could have been much longer. The friendship between the girls change due to circumstances that were so horrible. Each, though the other didn't know the full extent, go through some brutal challenges. It won't be until books end that we hear the full story.
The book occasionally fast forwards to 2018, when a family comes looking for Young Sook. Now I her eighties we see how she fared through the years and what connection this family has to hers. A book that will make you cringe, but eventually pull you in to a friendship that was special and the lives of the haenyo, these women of the sea. It is well written, well researched and the prose is wonderful. It is a novel that shows how much we miss, misjudge, when we fail to forgive.
ARC from Edelweiss.
BUT. When the brutal facts of history took over the story, I was suddenly engrossed, and Young-sook's narration both matured and added depth and humanity to the recounting of events. I flew through the rest of the book in a day! The story follows Young-sook and her friend Mi-ja from childhood in the late 1930s through terrible tragedies to the modern day. In 2008, a Korean-American family find an elderly Young-sook on the beach, where she is still diving when her health allows, and ask her if she knows their grandmother, showing her a photograph which stirs dreadful memories.
The strongest story belongs to the real-life haenyeo, who supported their families by deep-sea diving for shellfish and even octopus for generations, while their husbands looked after the home and raised the children. These women are still diving today, although in reduced numbers and now wearing wetsuits rather than flimsy white clothing! I was also shocked by the Jeju Uprising in 1948, fictionalised here but based on witness accounts and a lengthy report. The South Korean police and ministry of defence have only just apologised for their part in the atrocities!
Definitely worth persevering with, to learn about the amazing haenyeo of Jeju Island.
Basically, the women are very close friends and dive together. As one marries a man who has collaborated with the Japanese, they grow apart until one day during a horrible massacre, Ma-ja is forced to make a quick decision that will forever keep them apart. As they age and their children grow, things become more complicated.
The book is not told in strict chronological order but moves between the past and the present which I also found distracting. At times, I felt like the author was attempting to explain a life style,interesting though it be, through characters that are not fully developed.
Maybe it just wasn't the right time for me to read.
One of the joys of historical fiction is being immersed in a time and place, and learning something new about it. I knew nothing of the history of Korea, of the matrifocal society on Jeju Island, of haenyeo and the Japanese occupation of Korea, all presented here in a seamless story of friendship and betrayal.
Despite its intriguing premise, Lisa See's Island of Sea Women only intermittently held my interest. The basic plot (two girls share a friendship that is closer than sisterhood until circumstances tear them apart) seems borrowed from See's breakout novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005). I didn't find the traditional practices of the haenyeo easy to relate to, and the moral of the story came across in a heavy-handed way. Everything is tied up neatly at the end. Not my favorite.
Today's lesson brings the reader to Korea circa late 1930's. Koreans are living under Japanese control and wish for the day when Korea will some day regain there independence. Forward to World
Into this turmoil, See, tells us the human interest side of the story. We are introduced to Young-sook as an 80 year old grandmother working near the sea. A casual acquaintance on the beach triggers memories of her childhood friend Mi-ja. Friends since birth, they are closer than sisters but for some reason Young-sook denies knowing Mi-ja. This is the catalyst which propels the reader forward. The memories begin......Young-sook and Hi-ja were haenyeo, underwater divers who helped support their families with earnings from what they harvest from the sea surrounding the island of Jeju. The somewhat dystopian lifestyle of a haenyeo is very enlightening, their story adventurous yet dangerous. What could have possibly gone wrong? The author will enthrall you with the details of their lives and you'll find you'll probably want to take a dip with Lisa See again and again.
The story follows two women, Mi-Ja and Young-Sook, from the time of Japanese colonization, through World War II and the Korean War, to the present day. They go into the sea as baby-divers as soon as they are old enough. As young girls, their friendship seems unshakable, but family circumstances, marriages, and horrific historical events force their paths to diverge. Lisa See’s strength is weaving her characters stories with her research and historical events to make a compelling read, and this did not disappoint.