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The Island of Sea Women
Cover of The Island of Sea Women
The Island of Sea Women
A Novel
by Lisa See
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"A mesmerizing new historical novel" (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Lisa See, the bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and devastating family secrets on a small Korean island.
Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who 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 find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, 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. 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 forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

"This vivid...thoughtful and empathetic" novel (The New York Times Book Review) illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge and the men take care of the children. "A wonderful ode to a truly singular group of women" (Publishers Weekly), The Island of Sea Women is a "beautiful story...about the endurance of friendship when it's pushed to its limits, and you...will love it" (Cosmopolitan).
THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"A mesmerizing new historical novel" (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Lisa See, the bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and devastating family secrets on a small Korean island.
Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who 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 find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, 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. 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 forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

"This vivid...thoughtful and empathetic" novel (The New York Times Book Review) illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge and the men take care of the children. "A wonderful ode to a truly singular group of women" (Publishers Weekly), The Island of Sea Women is a "beautiful story...about the endurance of friendship when it's pushed to its limits, and you...will love it" (Cosmopolitan).
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About the Author-
  • Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of The Island of Sea Women, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and Dreams of Joy, which debuted at #1. She is also the author of On Gold Mountain, which tells the story of her Chinese American family's settlement in Los Angeles. See was the recipient of the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Association of Southern California and the History Maker's Award from the Chinese American Museum. She was also named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    October 15, 2018

    This latest work by New York Times best-selling See after The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane takes place on Korea's Jeju Island, known for women divers called the Haenyeo, who risk their lives doing hard physical labor while the men stay home and tend the children. Here, two fledgling divers become fast friends despite obvious contrasts--Young-sook's mother is the lead diver, while Mi-ja is diminished in others' eyes because her father collaborated with the Japanese. But then something big happens to test their friendship. With a 200,000-copy first printing and a ten-city tour.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2019
    On an island off the South Korean coast, an ancient guild of women divers reckons with the depredations of modernity from 1938 to 2008 in See's (The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, 2017, etc.) latest novel.The women divers of Jeju Island, known as haenyeo, don't display the usual female subservience. Empowered by the income they derive from their diving, harvesting seafood to consume and sell, haenyeo are heads of households; their husbands mind the children and do menial chores. Young-sook, See's first-person narrator and protagonist, tells of her family and her ill-fated friendship with Mi-ja, who, rescued from neglectful relatives by Sun-sil, Young-sook's mother, is initiated into the diving collective headed by Sun-sil. The girls grow up together, dive together, and go on lucrative assignments in the freezing waters near Vladivostok, Russia. They are also married off together, Mi-ja to Sang-mun, who, as World War II progresses, is enriched by collaborating with the Japanese, and Young-sook to Jun-bu, a neighbor and childhood playmate. The novel's first half is anecdotal and a little tedious as the minutiae of the haenyeo craft are explored: free diving, pre-wetsuit diving garb, and sumbisori, the art of held breath. As two tragedies prove, the most prized catches are the riskiest: octopus and abalone. See did extensive research with primary sources to detail not only the haenyeo traditions, but the mass murders on Jeju beginning in 1948, which were covered up for decades by the South Korean government. As Jeju villages are decimated, Young-sook loses half her family and also, due to a terrible betrayal, her friendship with Mi-ja. The tangled web of politics and tyranny, not to mention the inaction of U.N. and American occupiers leading up to the massacres, deserves its own work, perhaps nonfiction. In the context of such horrors, the novel's main source of suspense, whether Young-sook can forgive Mi-ja, seems beside the point.Although this novel's reach exceeds its grasp, it is a necessary book.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 25, 2019
    See (The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane) once again explores how culture survives and morphs in this story of a real-life Korean female diving collective. Young-Sook and Mi-Ja meet as young girls in 1939 in Hado, a village on the island of Jeju, where traditionally the women earn a living while their husbands care for the children and home. The two girls begin training as haenyeo, divers who harvest oysters, sea slugs, and octopi from the sea. But after WWII when American occupation of southern Korea begins, the two grow apart. While Young-Sook struggles to make ends meet for her family, Mi-Ja’s husband’s role in the government spares her the economic suffering endured by most of the country. But after Mi-Ja’s family betrays Young-Sook, Young-Sook struggles for decades to reconcile her anger with fond memories of her friend, even after their families cross paths again. Jumping between the WWII era and 2008, See perceptively depicts challenges faced by Koreans over the course of the 20th century, particularly homing in on the ways the haenyeo have struggled to maintain their way of life. Exposing the depths of human cruelty and resilience, See’s lush tale is a wonderful ode to a truly singular group of women.

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Lisa See
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