The Island of Sea Women

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Wow - this book was so powerful and the storytelling is absolutely incredible. I learned a lot about a place and time I knew very little about. I loved the characters. It took me quite a while to get through this one, but that's more me than the book - my attention span is shorter in the summer months, unfortunately. 

If you enjoy stories about strong women and their love for their families despite difficult cultural hardships, I implore you to check this out. I will absolutely be reading some of Lisa See's backlist because her writing is wonderful.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I love these little gems that allow you to take a glimpse of a significant point of history in a culture and society,  that were completely off my radar and I knew nothing about, and completely blow my mind. 
This is a very powerful, heartwarming and gut wrenching book about the haenyeos, a collective, well multiple collectives,  of women trained to dive and harvest sea creatures to provide for their families in what is now South Korea. The novel skips back and forth through time from the present, all the way back to the Second World War. It mainly chronicles the life of young-sook and her best friend mi-ja, with all their ups and downs, heart break, and tragedy. 

I’ve learned so much in 350 pages that I never knew before and it really blew me away. This is a beautiful story with memorable characters and a solid message. Highly recommend reading this one.
Was this review helpful?
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 the 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 and their passion for the sea

The Island of Sea Woman explores the friendship and family dynamics between two young girls, Young-soo and Mi-Ja. The story takes place in a span of 80 years as we follow the girls through their heartache and challenges. The tension and suspense rise as the girls start to drift apart due do betrayal and the struggle for forgiveness. 

About halfway through the story, it takes a turn and Lisa See’s extensive research starts to show and at times read like nonfiction to me. She delves deep in the history and events here that took place over a period of time and I started to lose that emotion connected to the characters. Even though I wanted the focus to stay on the tradition and lives of the generation of women as we see them become more adaptive to modern ways, I did find the story interesting In the end, I thought the story came together well and I was really glad to learn about a culture I knew nothing about. I recommend.
Was this review helpful?
I tried so hard but just couldn’t connect with this book and after many many tries over a few months, just had to give up. I generyreally love Lisa See’s books, but this one just wasn’t working for me. It starts really slow and is very detailed and the story just never going going for me ,
Was this review helpful?
Lisa See has done it again. She's brought us into a real place, with real people, whom have largely kept away from mass society, and told a story that needs to be told. Similar to [book:The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane|25150798], See takes us on journey that spans many decades on a small island in Korea called Jeju. The Island of Sea Women is a thought provoking, emotional story about the women in a culture that has all but disappeared today. Spanning from a time of island prosperity, to WWII, to the Korea War, to present day; See tells a story that is important, if horrifying at times, and a history that largely hasn't been told up until now.

Women's Culture
The Island of Sea Women shows a true life female dominant culture that existed prior to WWII. The women do all the work, while the men watch the babies (post breast feeding months). The women manage the money, decisions and basic household needs; plus they generate the income for said household needs by swimming in the depths of the Yellow Sea (that is a part of the Pacific Ocean). This is the haenyeo culture as it once was. And while the women are perhaps worn out, and a disproportionate amount of work falls to them; I can't help (as a female) but feel proud of them for being in control of so much and having seemingly unlimited strength. 
This is the focus of the first third of The Island of Sea Women. We learn about haenyeo culture, island life, the prosperity and dangers of scavenging the sea, and the resilience of these women, who literally survive hypothermic temperatures to feed their families. However, early on See reminds us that this is not all a grand paradise and so the first of many deaths to come occurs. 

Did you know about the Korean Island of Jeju's genocide?
I certainly had no idea about JeJu's awful history following WWII and leading into the Korea War. The reason for that is explained by See; the government literally had a ban on discussing the events of the 4.3 incident. As though not talking about it means it never happened. It is believed more than 10% of the  island population were systematically wiped out. The worst of this piece of history is that the massacre was undertaken largely by their own people due to their fear. We experience this time period through the eyes of our leading lady and it is beyond devastating. Not for the faint of heart, and yet such an important story to tell; especially given that up until the 1990's these stories were not told to anyone! Let this be a lesson to us that silence does not erase the past. 

Consent, Motherhood and Infertility
All three are things that every society on Earth has had to contend with. There is a huge emphasis on having children in this culture and it pains me (as a childless woman) to see those whom cannot conceive or carry to term suffer socially and emotionally. While above I have emphasized the power the women have in their households; it is only once they are married that this happens. And then only if the husband permits it. So the men still hold the ability to dominate the lives of these women. From beatings to forced consent (asking the question, is marriage consent to sex? In this culture the answer would be yes...) to physical and emotional abuse; the men knew how to break these women down and we see the limited options available to those who are deemed social pariah. 

Always Right
As a Canadian a piece of me is always frustrated that there are places in the world where people believe their values are 'correct' or 'better' than others. Sorry all, but no country has proven their belief of this over and over in history as often as the Americans. And here we see them strong arming democracy (as if being told who to vote for is democracy!), taking away rights, withholding food and other limiting behaviours in order to make a culture and community more like themselves. It's so sad. Thankfully Lisa See tells the story with a lyrical beauty that at least allows the reader to understand that many people thought they were 'doing the right thing'. Yet See still shows us how horribly wrong the foreign helpers truly were. 

Grudges and Forgiveness
Lisa See does what she does best and brings us into a time period different from our own; and within the minds of a group of women whose strength are beyond any I've ever imagined, including that of the Amazonian women. We experience an internal struggle, unlike any other I've read of, with our leading lady regarding forgiveness. Are there acts which are unforgivable? Does forgiveness truly set us free? Does a grudge hurt those who harbour it most? 
This was perhaps the most in-depth and critical portrayal on forgiveness I've ever read. As we (occasionally) leap forward in the narrative to the last years of our leading lady's life it is plain to see that time does not heal all wounds. It helps that for the reader we've just read the awful events and so the years that have passed in the story are meaningless to us; just as they appear to be for our elderly lady. Thus allowing us to really internalize the struggle to forgive.  I found myself reflecting on my own grudges over the years and evaluating the 'substance' behind them. 

Overall
This is an amazing book on so many levels. See once again brings us into a culture that few know about. Her research and commitment to telling an accurate historical and cultural story are unparalleled to any other historical author. And while we are reading a fictionalization of history each of her characters and events feels so real. This allows the reader to really feel the cultural implications that resulted from the loss of the time period. 
I have never had a desire to go to anywhere in Korea until now. I know have a strong wish to see the Island of Jeju, walk the memorial park and look upon the sea (as I'm terrified of water and cannot swim) that so many brave women swam (and died in) to provide their families with essential live-giving food and income. As Jeju now relies on tourism as it's primary economic driver; visitors are sought after to keep the island alive.
Every girl and woman on Earth could benefit from reading this story and gaining courage, strength and understanding from a legion of women whom are nearly forgotten. I'm so glad that Lisa See brought their story forward and shared it in this literary gem.  

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See is a richly layered epoch that spans nearly seven decades.  This is a beautifully written story of friendship and tenacity during a brutal period in Korea's history.

Mi-ja and Young-sook are childhood friends who are forever bonded by their shared occupation of 'baby divers' in a haenyeo, an all-female community of deep sea divers on the tiny Korean island of Jeju.  The goal of the collective is to provide for the men and children living in the matrifocal society.  The women's friendship is threatened, however, during the period of Japanese colonialism on Jeju, as Mi-ja is herself the daughter of a Japanese collaborator.  Their seemingly unbreakable bond is severely tested by conflicting allegiances, and the horrors of a war that is beyond their control.

The novel focuses on a piece of history of which I knew very little.  Lisa See's meticulous research and detailed documentation must be applauded.  I love to be both entertained and educated by a story, and this work provides both in spades.  The tenacity of these haenyeo women left me awestruck.  I am very much looking forward to reading much more from this talented author.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC.
Was this review helpful?
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. Thank you to Netgalley, to the Author and to the Publisher.  I have read a number of books by Lisa See, and they have all been really good, this one is no different.  This history of the haenyeo and of the island of Jeju was very interesting, and I loved the parts in the book when they were diving.  The story Mi-ja and Young-sook was deep and tragic, but I felt that it dragged a bit.
I would absolutely recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
Absolutely stunning! I have read nearly all of Lisa See's novels and this novel was by far one of my favourites. The novel is well researched, and for me every novel is like a history lesson. I knew nothing about Korean island of Jeju and that it was a matriarchal society of women who work as haenyeo divers . Such a unique and captivating story and characters
Was this review helpful?
Lisa See is back!!! Hooray!! And this book is one of her best yet! The Islsnd of Sea Women is a saga that delves into a piece of Korean history. It focuses on the haenyeo, a matriarchal group of women known for their ability to provide for their families through deep sea diving. The risks of this lifestyle are great yet highly rewarding. It is through their haenyeo sisters that they belong and deepen their sense of community. 

At the heart of this story is the deep friendship between two baby divers Mi-ja and Young-sook. The two become fast friends at a tender age when Young-sook's mother, who is also chief of the haenyeo, invites Hi-ja, an orphan and ostracized member of the community due to her father's prior involvement with the Japanese, to dive with the collective. The story of their friendship and their years of suffering pre and post WW2 is told with exceptional warmth and emotion. It is a heartbreaking tale that will have you hooked from the start.

There was so much Korean history that I knew nothing about, and was shocked to learn. This story has depth and immaculate characterization. It is definitely a favorite read of 2019 for me 

A gracious thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada and Netgalleyfor an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
A special thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster Canada, and Scribner for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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 different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they become divers like the rest of the women in their seaside village. The all-female diving collective is led by Young-sook’s mother. Even though they are "baby divers," the girls realize that with this great responsibility comes great danger.

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.
Was this review helpful?
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 known massacres in modern history. The 4.3 uprising in Jeju that began on April 3rd, 1948. It is estimated that between 14,000- 30,000 people were killed as an anticommunist campaign that swept the island. An event that was buried for almost 60 years. It wouldn't be until 2006 that the South Korean government would acknowledge that this event took place. 

Although I read this book at a fairly slow pace( 5 day period rather than in one day/ night), I finish it feeling a great number of emotions. It's a first rate story that essentially follows two women who move from a friendship of childhood innocence and find themselves facing more and more turmoil as they grow older. I know that we all have a book list that never gets shortened, but I would certainly recommend that this book should be on your 2019 reading list.
Was this review helpful?
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 timeline which is narrated by Young-sook, we see these two characters growing up close like sisters and the events that wrenched them apart. Some of the events are brutal and horrific, but they are based on real historical events so they are important to the story. I loved the history in this book; I don’t always like historical fiction because sometimes it seems to romanticize or trivialize history, but See’s novel does neither. I also liked the story and the characters, although at times the tension between Young-sook and Mi-Ja seemed a bit drawn out. It’s a minor flaw. If you like historical fiction, this is a good one. Another great buddy read with Diane and Angela. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Was this review helpful?
Lisa See is one of my favorite authors so I was thrilled to get my hands on this ARC. This novel really opened up a whole world of historical fiction that I had very little knowledge of. I had never heard of the Haenyeo and how they dive and are the breadwinners of the family. I also knew very little about the Japanese occupation in Korea and how Koreans fought among themselves. Some aspects of the book were hard to read if you are sensitive,. I always heartily recommend Lisa See's novels to my library patrons and this will be another one that I will suggest as well. Thanks to publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Wow. This book was informative and brutal. I had never heard of the Haenyeo of the Korean Island of Jeju--women who dove and harvested sea creatures to provide for their families. This follows Young-sook and Mi-ja, young women closer than sisters, as they navigate through the changing world around them. From Japanese occupied Korea during WWII, through the Korean War, and to the present day, See gives a glimpse of the power and heartbreak of war, and the struggle with forgiveness in light of brutality. 

The first part of this book was a bit slow, but I think that is because it was amazingly researched and read a little like a textbook in some parts. However, it's an amazing glimpse into a part of history that I didn't know much about and I am SO grateful I read it for that. This is an extremely important book--it recognizes a group of people that I think would otherwise be fairly unknown to the average person. Absolutely beautiful.
Was this review helpful?
This is my first time reading anything by Lisa See, The Island of Sea Women released earlier this month and was my introduction to HF taking place in Korea.

Taking place on a small island off the coast of Korea this book opened my eyes to the vast history and extraordinary events that were totally unfamiliar to me. Following the lives of best friends, Mi-ja and Young-sook, the author drew from the pages of history to weave a wonderful story. Beginning in the 1930s the country goes through so much as does the relationship of these 2 girls/women.

I learned so much with this read. Having never heard of a haenyeo before I found it fascinating that such an occupation existed.  The Japanese occupation and other atrocities of war gave a vivid picture of the struggles and hardships the residents faced.

The research into this book was evident and the author notes wonderful - yes pages of them and well worth the read. 

The Island of Sea Women is a story of friendship, survival, relationships and so much more. Definitely an author I will read more of and highly recommend to those who like HF off the beaten track.

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending an author event with Lisa See and it was wonderful. I read this book in anticipation and was pleased to hear more about it.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster for an advanced copy (via Netgalley) in exchange for honest review.
Was this review helpful?
by Maggie
5.0 out of 5 stars
Wonderful voyage
March 25, 2019
Format: Hardcover
WOW! What a wonderful voyage! A voyage to Jeju Island off Korea, a voyage in time to a Korea I had no knowledge of, a voyage to visit a group of amazing, strong diving women! This is an amazing book, highly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
Ahhhhh...Lisa See...you are one of my favourite authors.  You have not disappointed me yet.  I think what is so wonderful about her writing is not only do you have well developed characters but the story has a link to real life.  It is not fantasy and so exposes you to some part of life that you didn't know existed.  While I knew about some of the atrocities that took place in Korea during this time period, I learned more detail.  So you get a bit of a history study without even expecting it.  I did not know about the history of haenyeo and am amazed by this part of the Korean culture.  I was invested in the lives of these characters from beginning to end - through their joys and hardships - although the hardships were difficult (but important) at times to read.  Thank you, Lisa See, for another well researched and entertaining read.
Was this review helpful?
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 to do so, beginning their training when young: to hold their breath, develop strong, supple muscles, and expand their instincts for danger and for spotting their underwater harvests.

I know from reading the author’s note how much research was involved in this story. Before I even read how this book came about, the feeling I had was of Lisa See doing her always-exceptional historical and current research, and visiting the places she wrote about in person, but also listening to the stories of various people who remembered the period of time covered in this novel. Then, taking all of the history and the stories and stirring them with her imagination, Lisa See wove this fascinating, tragic, and utterly absorbing story.

And on the tides of trust in this author, and with a few deep breaths, I dove into this story, and I dove deep.

We are drawn into the story of Mi-ja and Young-sook who first met when they were seven years old and grew to be heart friends, sharing their deepest held secrets, their love of diving, and many adventures, including going to Russia as teenagers to dive in freezing cold waters for extra money to bring home for their families. When they are 21, a rift occurs and although they continue to be buoyed by their loving bond, the seeds of suspicion and distrust are planted.

Through the eyes, hearts, and experiences of two young girls who mature and grow into women with their own families, we are transported seamlessly between the past when they were younger, through and into a time 70 years onward. The culture and history of Jeju Island is both tragic and triumphant.

Tragic, because there was always some government somewhere wanting to take control of the Island due to its strategic military location. Decades of living in fear, of poverty, restrictions, and wars would surely wear down any group of people. Triumphant because, like the inspiring haenyeo with their amazing abilities, again and again these Island people propelled themselves from the depths and to the surface.

I loved everything about this novel: the story, the characters, the setting, and the many, many things I learned. There are heart-rending and catastrophic events in this story, and there were several times when I had to pause in my reading to absorb the shock of what these characters that I grew to love went through. At the same time, it is a testament and tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that will stay within my heart for always.

With gratitude to Simon and Schuster Canada, Scribner and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review an ARC of this novel, and to the author, Lisa See: the only author who could have written this story. Its publication date is March 05, 2019.
Was this review helpful?
This is another wonderful read from this successful author.  Set on the island of Jeju off the coast of South Korean and spanning many decades, the story revolves around the friendship between two women who are Haenyeo.  The Haenyeo are female divers who are harvest food products from the ocean by free diving, even in very cold waters.  I particularly love being educated while I am being entertained and this book did such a wonderful job of that.  It is certainly worth your time.
Was this review helpful?
Another wonderful novel by Lisa See.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story of women’s friendship, trust, secrets and survival.  As with every See novel, you learn about something, in this case, women divers. Starting in 1930s, we swim with the baby divers who become best friends, and then not. Choices make changes, families are turned upside down by the war. How much can a bond can stretch, or be repaired.
Was this review helpful?