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The Island of Sea Women
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April 2019: History > The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See; 4.5 Stars

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Hahtoolah | 422 comments The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa Sea (2019). Although this is fiction, it is historical fiction, and the book provides a very good over view of the life of the women divers on the island of Jeju off the coast of South Korea and the island's uprising and massacre in the later 1940s.

For centuries on the island of Jeju, off the southern coast of Korea, the women have been the main source of income for their families by diving to gather shellfish, abalone and sea urchins. These women, known as haenyeo, learn how to dive deep into the ocean, without the benefit of diving equipment to gather their harvest.

This novel follows two such divers from their budding friendship in the 1930s through island’s uprising in the late 1940s and the Korean occupation. Young-souk was taught the art of diving from her mother, who was the head of the women’s diving collective. Her friend, Mi-ja was the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, hence, suspect. Her mother died giving birth to Mi-ja, and she was pawned off to live with in aunt and uncle who lived in Young-souk’s village.

The novel describes the hardships, yet joy, that comes from the diving. The women are the main breadwinners of the family, while husbands stay home with the children, and drinking or gambling their wives hard earned money.

Life of the haenyeo is not easy, as the sea can easily take a life it the diver is not careful. The life, however, has its long traditions, which are carefully observed and treasured by divers.

Their life is shattered with the events taking place in the Pacific theater of World War II and its aftermath. The novel describes the history of the divided Korea, as seen from the inhabitants of the Island.

In parallel, Young-souk and Mi-ja reach marriageable age during this time. Tainted by the sins of her father, Mi-ja fears she will not find a suitable husband. She is suddenly married off to the handsome and wealthy son of another Japanese collaborator. Young-souk, to is married, but to the son of her mother’s best friend. Young-souk works to help pay for her husband’s education. He becomes a teacher, and although he would prefer his wife not to work, he knows that the sea is in her blood.

Ma-ji moves to the “big city” and changes is ways that Young-souk fails to fully appreciate. When a tragic event occurs on the island, Young-souk breaks off all ties with Ma-ji. Still tied to Ma-ji, however, she still secretly yearns for her friend.

I knew virtually nothing about Korea and the occupation following World War II. This gave me an overview, which piqued my interest to research other materials for the events described in this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

4.5 Stars


message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy | 8535 comments Beautiful Review! Nicely done!


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Wonderful review! I added this to my TBR after reading Amy's review and now you have just pushed it up higher in the stack.


message 4: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7505 comments Lovely review-It seems that there are very few of us who knew about the Japanese occupation of Korea-Last months tag has also put this and other books high my TBR list.


message 5: by NancyJ (new) - added it

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5233 comments That sounds wonderful. I really loved White Chysanthemum which also featured Haenyeo women.


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