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The Island of Sea Women

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  67,584 ratings  ·  8,949 reviews
Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781501154850

Set on the Korean island of Jeju, The Island of Sea Women follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the er
Hardcover, 374 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Scribner
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Lisa See
Lisa See - author, historical fiction

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Rachel Brittain If you are looking for a light, easy read that makes you feel good, this may not be the book for you. If you want a moving story that illustrates the …moreIf you are looking for a light, easy read that makes you feel good, this may not be the book for you. If you want a moving story that illustrates the strength of these amazing women through the challenges of a hard, real life, stick with it. You won't be sorry.(less)

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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  67,584 ratings  ·  8,949 reviews

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Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Update: Happy Publication Day! (Today, March 5th, 2019)

Haenyeo is the Korean name for the sea women who, through careful husbandry, harvest the sea through various seasons of production and restoration. On Jeju Island, south of mainland Korea, they called themselves jamsu, jamnyeo, or jomnyeo, which are all Jeju words. The haenyeo culture is characterized as matrifocal; that is, focused on females. They did all the difficult and dangerous work in their families and had to be in top physical form
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
5 stars
This is a story of pain , sorrow, anger, anger and grief all rolled into one. This is historical fiction, set on the island of Jeju, South Korea. It centers on the relationship between two women, Mi-ja and Young-sook, from the 1930s to 2008. They are best friends growing up in a Korea run by the Japanese, who made a colony of Korea in 1910. *SPOILER alert: They remain friends until one day in January 1949, when their friendship is destroyed. Young-sook's husband, son and sister-in-law are
Angela M
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I first learned about the Korean island of Jeju and the Haenyeo, the female divers, the fisher women who were the major providers of food and income for their families, when I read White Chrysanthemum. It was a story of the Japanese occupation of Korea and the horrors of young women being taken by the Japanese to be a “comfort workers” and a young haenyeo is taken. See’s novel focuses specifically on the lives of the Haenyeo spanning decades and is a much more in depth look. She gives wonderful ...more
Elyse  Walters
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Update: $2.99 kindle special. The history of these women - is fascinating! A great price - worth reading!! 🤿🐟

“As the Korean saying goes, *Haenyos* do the work of the dead in the land of the living”.
“Every woman who enters the sea carries a coffin on her back. In this world, the undersea world, we tow the burdens of a hard life”.

Women harvest together, sort together, and sell together. The sea itself is communal.

With no breathing equipment, the deep-sea diving Korean women (*Haenyos*), hold th
Diane S ☔
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
For the first third of this novel, though I was liking the story, I felt like I was observing from afar, wasn't connecting emotionally with the story. I was enjoying learning about the life of the haenyo and their diving collective on the Korean island of Jeju. A matriarchal society is rare, so that was intriguing. The friendship between Mi ja and Young Sook was just beginning, so there was definitely enough to keep me reading. Also this was my monthly read with Angela and Esil, and up to this p ...more
Rating 3.75

I'm sure I'm in the minority on this one. And to be honest, I'm torn. I'm a big Lisa See fan. I've read a number of her books. Some I've loved, some not so much. I've attended numerous talks by her and will always try and see her speak when I can. I have one of her books, Peony in Love, that I've been holding on to years to read. I just always want to have one of her books in reserve. (Yup, weird book habits). But with this one....I'm just wavering in my thoughts.

First, love, love, lo
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Mi-ja and Young-sook are best friends who grew up on the Korean Island of Jeju. They are part of the Haenyeo culture on the island. The Haenyeo, or women of the sea, can dive deep, have a higher shivering threshold, and provide for their families, even diving while pregnant. The girls/women met when they were seven years old and became baby divers together. They spent all their time together, as best friends do, sharing secrets, dreams, wishes and their shared plans for their futures. But life a ...more
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
This book was soo good and sad and did I say good!? It’s now on one of my Amazon wishlists!!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Talk about a fascinating premise, and from Lisa See, one of my favorite authors? The Island of Sea Women is captivating historical fiction at its masterful best. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

On the Korean island of Jeju, women do the work of diving, while the men take care of the children. Two girls, Mi-ja and Young-sook, are the best of friends waiting for their time to be old enough to join the diving collective. With their future career comes fun and excitement along with significant danger.

Mi-ja and You
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)

This was a bit of a slow moving read for me, probably because there were so many characters and so much detail about a multitude of things.

When we start the novel the island of Jeju off the coast of Korea is under Japanese control. The two main characters Mi-ja and Young-sook are young girls, but already being groomed to become “Haenyeo”, strong women divers who gradually learn to hold their breath long enough to dive to the ocean floor. There is much more to their culture th
Kylie D
A deeply moving tale, 'The Island Of Sea Women' follows the life of Young-sook from when she's an inexperienced baby diver, through to being chief haenyeo, through to her eighties.

Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja grow up together in a small village on the South Korean island of Jeju. They are destined to be best friends forever, through learning to dive, getting married and having their first babies. But life doesn't always work out how you want it too. We follow these women's lives through
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." (Mother Teresa)

The threads of time, commitment, connection, and honor run deeply through this latest offering by the highly talented Lisa See. We follow her to the Korean volcanic island of Jeju in the Korean Strait. Jeju is filled with jutting cliffs, white sandy beaches, and the deafening roar of the sea. But the beauty of these surroundings is far outmatched by the resilience of its people.....and in particul
Lucy Langford
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“How do we fall in love? ... How different it is with friendship. 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 moment. 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.”

This wa
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
There is nothing better than a well researched historical fiction novel. This book was extensive in its detail of the fictional lives of its two principal protagonists Mi-Ja and Young-Sook. It was was a book seeped in detail, filled with sorrow, and the ideal of friendship, and although hard to conceptualize at times, the things these women endured, it was a riveting story of strength, valor, and fortitude.

Mi-Ja and Young-Sook are the best of friends. They anxiously look forward to their beginni
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
5 stars!
On the tiny island of Jeju in South Korea, live the “Sea Women”, the haenyeo. Starting at a young age under the tutelage of their elders, girls undergo rigorous training to dive the depths of the ocean and harvest sea urchins, octopus, and other delicacies from the ocean floor. And they do it in icy waters wearing only a thin, homemade cotton swim costume, with no oxygen tank or other diving apparatus.

In a role reversal uncommon for the times, the women provided for their families whil
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
[3.4] I can usually count on Lisa See to deliver an engrossing story along with a history lesson. In The Island of Sea Women, See certainly delivers the history lesson! I learned about the haenyeo, the courageous diving women who live on the island of Jeju in South Korea. I knew nothing about them and was fascinated. I was also horrified to learn about the 4:3 Massacre where thousands of citizens were murdered by the government in 1948.

Unfortunately, the novel felt like scaffolding for the hist
Brenda ~Traveling Sister is frustrated with GR
3.5 Stars

I read The Island of Sea Women for the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge and read it with a couple of my Traveling Friends. I used it for the prompt for Not from around here: Read a book set in a different culture from your own.

I was completely drawn into the setting here to the remote Jeju Island in South Korea that is home to haenyeo “sea woman” who all are female free drivers. I was fascinated by these strong, proud women who took risks and made sacrifices to feed their families an
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Set on the South Korean island of Jeju, under Japanese occupation when the narrative begins this novel investigates the enigmatic and traditional collective of haenyo - groups of women who deep sea dive with rudimentary equipment while their husbands stay at home looking after the children. In other words, we have a role reversal here. The novel focuses on the deep friendship between Young-Sook and Mi-Ja, a friendship which will be broken asunder when civil war breaks out and Korea enters the da ...more
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful, haunting, and inspiring story! Lisa See never fails to impress or educate me through her stunning storytelling. This is the story of two friends Mi-ja and Young-sook who Live on the Korean island of Jeju. Jeju is the home of the Haenyeo, Women who spend their days diving in the sea holding their breath for an unbelievable amount of time and harvesting shellfish and see creatures. This is a matriarchal society where the women go out and work and the men stay home and take care o ...more
If you're interested in modern Asian history this makes for an engrossing read. Not only does it tell of the fascinating lives of the traditional haenyeo, or diving women who harvested fish and seafood on the Korean island of Jeju, but it also describes the political eruptions that affected their lives during Japanese occupation and later the Korean war, ultimately leading to the violent Jeju Uprising in 1948 where anywhere up to 60,000 people were killed and another 40,000 fled to Japan.

At the
Set on Jeju Island in the Korea Strait, Lisa See’s novel focuses on the matrifocal society of haenyeo, women sea divers. The women learn at early ages from their mothers and grandmothers to dive and harvest the ocean’s plants and sea creatures, coming up at frequent intervals to release their breath, called sumbisori.

“Sumbisori is a vocal practice based on a breathing technique used by whales and seals.”

The women are the providers for the family. Fathers, h

photo credit:

Full of history, culture and female collectivity, The Island of Sea Women spans generations while showcasing the women who put their lives at risk for tradition.

Author Lisa See explores the haenyeo (Korean for 'sea women'), female freedivers of the South Korean island of Jeju, who have trained their bodies to withstand the extremes of the surrounding waters to gather marine life from the ocean's floor. But their physical adaptability ap
Lisa See is now officially on my favorite authors list, despite the fact that I have not yet read every single one of her novels (which I intend to rectify one of these days). Ever since reading her previous work The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (a book that I absolutely adored), I had been anxiously awaiting the release of See’s next novel — even though it took 2 years, the wait was definitely worth it! With her newest work, The Island of Sea Women , Lisa See delivers yet another richly ...more
Bren Let the sea enamor you
“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.”
― Lisa See, The Island of Sea Women

rating and review to follow.

I stayed up until 5:00 AM last night reading this book.

I have very mixed feelings on this book. I know it is beloved by many. I did not like it yet I cannot get it out of my mind. And I could not sleep because I was thinking about it.

I am trying to put i
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
The Island of Sea Women was so interesting. I knew nothing about 20th century Korea and certainly nothing about the island of Jeju and its history of female divers. Lisa See does a fabulous job of laying out Jeju’s history through this novel focused on two fictional divers, Young-sook and Mi-Ja. The story has two timelines. In the contemporary timeline, Young-sook is an old woman approached by Mi-Ja’s granddaughter and great granddaughter; Young-sook denies knowing Mi-Ja. In the historical timel ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In this well researched, illuminating novel exploring the haenyeo culture of Jeju Island in Korea, that of the the titular sea women, Lisa See has opened up a portal to a time and place far removed from my Western life. The reader sees events through the eyes of Young-Sook from her childhood and beginning as a “baby diver” during the years of Japanese occupation, through World War Two, post war occupation by the U.S. military and virulent anti-communist activity, and on to the end of the century ...more
It took me over three months to finish this book, and it wasn’t for a lack of interest in the author; this was my seventh Lisa See novel and interestingly, not even my least favorite. I wouldn’t say there’s anything ostensibly wrong with this book, and it’s not exactly a radical departure from the rest of See’s historical fiction: it follows a friendship between two women against the backdrop of a turbulent period in East Asian history (though here the setting is the Korean Jeju Island instead o ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
4 stars

I hate it when I put off a review. But I intentionally put this one on hold. I finished the book and then planned to go to book club to discuss it - hoping to see different objectives and then write my review. However, I was unable to go to that book club meeting, then forgot to come back and review this book. So now - sigh - over 2 weeks later I am going to attempt to muddle out a review.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. I probably would not have picked this book to read if

Jeju Island, Korea in the 1930s was made up of huge teams of women – the haenyeo - the all-female diving collective who provided for their families during the seasons, while the men of the families cared for the children. Young-sook was born into the life. Her mother was chief of their diving group, guiding them into the perfect places for the best catch. As Young-sook began her diving life as a baby diver, she had Mi-ja, her best friend, by her side. Together they learned the craft under
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, netgalley
Thanks to Netgalley and Simon&Shuster Canada for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review.

Set on the Korean island of Jeju, The Island of Sea Women is a tale of friendship and forgiveness during the backdrop of various world events. Lisa See isn't just a compelling storyteller, she is also a wonderful teacher, as she brings to her readers the nation's volatile history during the second half of the 20th century. It is also into this narrative that Lisa See presents one of the least
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Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.

Articles featuring this book

Why not focus on some serious family drama? Not yours, of course, but a fictional family whose story you can follow through the generations of...
222 likes · 79 comments
“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.” 40 likes
“How do we fall in love? ... How different it is with friendship. 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 moment. 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.” 31 likes
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