the island of sea women by lisa see
asian historical FICTION, 384 PP
The Island of Sea Women brings together three of my favorite genres: women’s relationships, historical events and learning about another culture. Lisa See presents a rich history of Korea before, during and after the Korean War teaching us more than we ever learned in a World History class. Entwined with the history and events of war, she explores and delves into the depths of women’s relationships, including the heartbreak when those bonds are severed with irreconcilable consequences. The story details the culture and commerce of the Koreans who live on Jeju Island, namely the women who make up the collective of haenyeo, women divers who harvest undersea gardens of conch, seaweed, octopus, sea urchins, abalone and more. Diving in frigid waters throughout most of the year, without air tanks, they support their community while the men tend to the babies and children, cook and laze around the village center.
At the core of the story, we follow Young-Sook from her early years as a “baby diver”, a young mother and on into her grandmother years as an esteemed elder and leader of her collective. Themes of guilt and the question of forgiveness mark the pages as deeply as they mark the ethos of Young-Sook and her friend, Mi-Ja, until the reader grapples with the questions herself and tries to place herself in each woman’s shoes, walking down their paths.
Beyond the exposition of human psychology, Lisa also weaves in the mysticism of the island landscape and folklore bringing the setting to life as a character of its own. From the caves and natural tunnel tubes, to the underwater fields, you are drawn into the Korean world of mountains and oceans, fields and cities, relishing its raw beauty and power. Another #1 pick by my book club, too.
Related Blog Post: The Island of Sea Women
Our book club has also read Lisa See’s books, Snowflower and the Secret Fan and Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. I don’t recall we have ever read three books by the same author. Personally, I have also read Shanghai Girls. Lisa See never disappoints. From the sounds of the research Lisa shared with us of her next book in progress, I think we’ll be reading a fourth one soon.
That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.Jhumpa Lahiri
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