Cover Image: The Mermaid from Jeju

The Mermaid from Jeju

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I received this from

"Inspired by the true event on Korea's Jeju Island in 1948. Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she's ever known."

Like so many books are these days, this is written in dual timelines. I found the older timeline more compelling than the newer, but it is a quick read.

Was this review helpful?
Junja is a young woman in Korea, growing up learning the traditions and following the family line in deep sea diving.  She is faced with trials as she watches her mother die young, her siblings leave to live with an estranged father, and American troops begin to move in.  She also falls in love with Suwol, but her heart and brain are swirling with all of the new political events happening in Korea, and she is trying to figure which end is up.  

Part of the story is set in modern-day America, but the majority is focused on Junja's young years in Korea.  I learned a lot about the country, culture, and history.
Was this review helpful?
A strong debut novel from very impressive Sumi Hahn, comes a story about young woman who dives deep into the sea to retrieve the treasures it offers. Junja, our main protagonist is a hard working girl who lives with her grandmother for most part of her young life. 
Set during times when Korea was brink of war born out of different ideologies, Junja finds herself between oceans and mountains, between rebellious teens and gentle soldiers. Its a love story, story about strength and perseverance, about ideology and finding contentment in the way we live. 
       Split into two parts, the first part of the story is told from Junja's perspective and the second is from her husband. The dichotomy of this is blatant and Sumi Hahn does a decent job of keeping the momentum though its obvious that its the voice of Junja, the mermaid, that wins over and is the strongest of the two. The second part is about the onset of Korean war and how things really change for the protagonists; the pain, the change and the suffering that come with it. 
     The mermaid from Jeju is indeed an interesting historical fiction providing an insular look into the times of the Korean divide. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Alcove Press for providing me with a free copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
According to the Ancient Greeks, five rivers flow through the land of the dead, and the most famous of these is Lethe, whose waters, when drunk, cause forgetfulness. 
The same cannot be said for the waters that flow through the afterlife of Sumi Hahn's sad tale, The Mermaid from Jeju, named for Jeju, the South Korean island where it's set. The imagery of the sea returns like the tide again and again: the idea of the titular 'mermaid' is based on the haenyeo, Korean female divers who earned their own income and supported their families by harvesting abalone and seaweed from the waves. In the ocean's deeper waters, death is merely one of many currents. The women leave offerings at an underwater shrine, said to be for the sea god, but the outcome of doing so is never guaranteed. Near the story's end, a character finds herself "outside the world", in the afterlife. She walks a path up a familiar mountain. Her hair grows and tangles with the branches. When she bends to drink from a stream, she remembers "who she was," and the waters restore her girlhood.
By this point, the story has faded quietly and sweetly into a triumph that perhaps only myths allow. Much like Korea, cut in half by the 38th parallel, this novel feels like it has two distinct halves. In the first, a young Korean woman and man fall in love against the backdrop of the Jeju Uprising, a rebellion that was brutally and violently repressed by Korea's military dictators. As violence unfolds around them and whole villages are burned or put to the sword, the couple's families prepare a wedding feast. You ache for the lovers in advance, suspecting already that this  story will not allow them to eat it. Eventually, the woman flees to mainland Korea, where she lives "only to ache." From there, she goes even further, to the United States, where she eschews the elemental gods of her Korean upbringing in favor of a strict communal Christianity and regular English lessons. She has two daughters who don't understand the past, for whose sake she suppresses the annual pain she feels when snowflakes fall and remind her of her flight. In the midst of confrontations with these daughters, she reminds her husband "the fault wasn't their daughter, but the language she spoke, which lacked modesty and manners." Unable to describe to them her life as a haenyeo, or the gentle feeling of waves like "caresses from the god of the sea," she tells them instead that she was once a mermaid.
The second half of the novel belongs to the ghosts born in the first half. The (now widowed) husband makes his way back to Jeju. The unpaved roads and small villages are gone, replaced by roads and resorts. Jeju, a site of so much weeping that the waters could have turned to solid salt, is now a honeymoon destination. Such is progress. But the husband can't quite relax into the honeymoon he clearly never had. He is plagued by the voices of the past - the people he and his wife left behind when fleeing the destruction of their homes. In order to calm his ghosts, he seeks out a shaman, who performs a ritual that lifts him into the realm of fantasy. "The work of healing…must start with forgiveness first," one of his friends tells him. Many of the people in this half of the novel are in search of peace, but first they must pass through forgiveness. Under the shaman's gentle but insistent pressure, ghosts rise from the resting places to which they were banished by war, graves often unmarked and unremembered, and dance towards freedom and joy. The gods of mountain and sea are awakened and honored, if only briefly.
It's a devastating tale, not least because it so honestly shows the deep trauma left by an incident that has been almost erased from history: for fifty years, it was apparently a crime to even mention the Jeju Uprising in Korea. From 1948–1950, as many as 100,000 people (many of them innocent citizens) may have been murdered by police and other authorized military forces who raped, executed and torched entire villages as part of an attempt to wipe out an ostensible communist rebellion. This incident happened partly under the so-called supervision of the United States. 
But this novel largely eschews grand political statements in favor of examining personal outcomes.
"Truth is, boys, there are no good guys in war," says one of the rebels to two  disillusioned Nationalist troops who have been shipped to Jeju. This point arrives early in the novel's chronology but halfway through its body, its bleak knowledge dividing the story's halves. While the rebel's statement may be philosophically true, and it explains the character's clear-eyed resistance, it also lets the government off the hook. (South Korea's president would eventually apologize for the murders of Jeju civilians -but  in 2006).
Bolstered by this dubious non-pep-talk, the troops find their way to their own quiet rebellion. This story illustrates the gap between survival and success, between life and afterlife. It demonstrates, also, why we cleave to the gods of our ancestors even when they appear to fail us. Denied the fruits of her wedding feast in life, the main character tastes the fruit of the afterlife, and remembers "the lives she lived before and the lives that were yet to come." For all people, but especially for people scarred by war, death is another form of continuity.
Was this review helpful?
I just reviewed The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn. #TheMermaidfromJeju #NetGalley
[NetGalley URL]
I ABSOLUTELY LOVED this book!!!  How unique and fascinating.. This story will stay with me!!!
Was this review helpful?
Sumi Hahn's The Mermaid from Jeju captivated me from the start.  I didn't know much about the Japanese invasion of Korea or the Korean war before reading this book.  In The Mermaid of Jeju, we learn the story of Junja Goh at the end of her life in America.  Her husband and two daughters are mourning her, preparing her funeral.  Her husband has started to dream of ghosts and as he tries to calm his life, he decides to return to South Korea and Jeju Island.

The novel switches from the present to the past and we learn Junja's story as a young girl.  She is the eldest daughter and a powerful swimmer, one of the famous divers of Jeju Island.  She learned this skill from her grandmother and mother - women equally famous and well respected for their strength and skill.  Junja has been sent on an errand to deliver live abalone to a family in the mountains.  The trip is long, difficult and exhausting and Junja travels on foot with the burden on her back.  She meets Suwol, the firstborn son of the house, during this trip and he becomes an important part of her story.

We learn of the violence and cruelty of the different occupiers of Jeju Island - from the Japanese to the Americans and the Mainlanders.  As we learn of the difficulties that Junja and her family have gone through, we get a sense of the difficulties the South Korean people had to endure.  The Mermaid from Jeju is told with humor, sympathy and beautiful prose. 

Was this review helpful?
One of the most beautifully written tales I’ve ever read. It’s heartbreaking, yet lyrical and masterfully done. I easily pictured everything described as if it were playing like a movie in my mind. The women were unapologetically strong and the men equal in respecting them. I eagerly hope to read more from this author.

I was provided with an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book! I have read a couple books about the Haenyeo women in Korea and find their history so fascinating . This book didn't spend quite as much time focusing on the actual diving parts but rather the terrible events that occured on Jeju Island during the Second World War.  I had no idea these events occured and found them eye opening and heartbreaking. I enjoyed the back and forth between the time periods, especially because the author put the main focus on the past, which I found the most interesting. I found myself a bit lost just over half way through the book when we focused on Junja's husband but Ms. Hahn did an excellent job tying it all together in the end.
Overall, beautifully written and one I will for sure recommend!
Was this review helpful?
What a magical post WWII story of bravery, love, loss, and redemption, set among the beautiful landscape of Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea during a very tumultuous time in Jeju’s history.  A story of a brave haenyeo girl and a rebel native she meets on Hallasan Mountain.

Having previously loved The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See and being somewhat familiar with this conflict, I was anxious to read this story.  I was not disappointed!  An amazing 5 stars for this beautifully woven mystic tale!

*Special thank you to NetGalley, Alcove Press, and Sumi Hahn for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!*
Was this review helpful?
*This book was received as an Advanced Reviewer's Copy from NetGalley.

The Mermaid from Jeju isn't a fantasy novel.  Instead, it's historical fiction, telling the tale of one of the divers from Jeju and her involvement during the aftermath of the war.  Interspersed with legends, it follows through dual timelines that have her present as a teenager and her husband reliving his past in the future.

Junja I liked as a character.  While she was still young and naive about most of the world around her, she tried to do what was right for her family.  Her grandmother too was interesting, and I would dare say a stronger personality than she herself.  The other part of the book, from her husband's eyes, was not quite as strong, although he was living in memory, he seemed to be a more timid person throughout his entire life.  Really, the standout character was Lee; probably the bravest and cleverest, he and Junja's grandmother's intrigues were what caught my attention in this book.

I admit, I did not like the dual timelines in this one.  It made the book disjointed and hard to follow at times, because I was trying to reconcile what I was learning in both with the other.  And then there were just a lot of parts left out.  like Junja's life in between her diving and her husband's recollections of her in America.  I think there was probably a lot of character development there that was missed out on.  The ending too, I re-read several times just to understand what was happened and when it merged into legend I was left feeling like I still didn't quite understand the resolution.  I don't know that I'm saying this should have been a longer book; but I think there was a lot that was crammed into here and could have been explored further to leave it feeling more complete.

Nice premise, subject matter, and some intriguing characters; but a little too all over the place for me.

Review by M. Reynard 2020
Was this review helpful?
𝑨𝒇𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒔𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒃𝒐𝒅𝒚, 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒅 𝒄𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒅, 𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒗𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒃𝒆𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒅 𝒂 𝒄𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒑𝒊𝒄𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒈𝒐𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐 𝒉𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒏.

Jeju is south Korea’s ‘Island of the Gods’, but the sun has set on paradise. We begin in 1944, Goh Junja longs to be a haenyeo just like her mother and grandmother before her, women who make their living plunging into the dangerous depths of the sea, collecting it’s bountiful blessings; abalone, shells, food and pearls if they’re lucky. Their sleep is filled with sea dreams, for they are mermaids that walk the land, visiting the sea king and his maidens. On Junja’s dive, she goes too deep but the sea king spits her out alive, she is a woman now, carrying on the tradition of the haenyeo. Having survived her near-drowning she is one of them, joining the women at the shore, no longer left behind to care for her siblings at home. When her mother is worried about leaving her work of leading the women divers safely to a fellow diver who has been spooked recently, she relents and allows Junja go in her stead on her annual trip to Hallason. Tasked with delivering abalone to the pig farmer’s wife and securing their own pork (piglet) for the winter, Junja is thrilled to climb the mountain on her own. She couldn’t imagine that she would meet Yang Suwol and fall in love. While surrounded by the lush beauty of the mountain, visiting the shrine of the gods she and Suwol encounter a soldier, searching for communists. It’s a prelude of what’s about to come. Something terrible has happened at home, in a rush she arrives to be at the side of her dying mother. The sea will take her, but the mystery is far deeper.

In a day, the world they’ve lived in has changed. Her dream speaks of a future far from the island, of marriage and daughters. Soldiers are taking over, American and Korean, the mountain is no longer safe and worse, her little brother and sister will no longer live with Junja and her grandmother. The old woman is acting strangely, she has befriended a constable, but she has secrets of her own and the death of her daughter has her hungry for answers. Junja is still in the dark about her family’s true history, and grandmother can’t keep her safe forever. As the threat of political unrest burns closer, it is up to grandmother’s sharp intellect to keep Junja alive but horrors and misfortune are on the horizon. It isn’t the first time, for Japanese occupation had invaded their lives before, so long ago- demanding sacrifices that grandmother carries within her. Through cunning, she will see that Junja
doesn’t drown on land. But what will become of her, what will happen between she and Suwol when he is arrested and accused of working with communists?

Part Two it is 2001, we come to know Dr. Moon and learn what has become of Junja. Dr. Moon has carried ghosts and torments of his own, never imagining in his youth that he would one day raise daughters in a foreign land “American girls”, no longer holding to traditions or “superstitions”. He is mourning a great loss, and haunted by the voices of spirits demanding he ‘go back’- the dead will be honored. “𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦’𝘴 𝘢 𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘸𝘢𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘪𝘵, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘧 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘥𝘰 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘧𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘪𝘵, 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘨𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘥𝘢𝘳𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘢𝘥.” He will return to visit Korea, much to his children’s shock. “𝘌𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘣𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘨𝘰𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘯 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘮𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘣𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥, 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘥 𝘣𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘢 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘣𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥.” Time is vast as an ocean.

Junja is naïve at the start of the novel, through no fault of her own, it’s for her protection that some truths are hidden but the ravages of war steals innocence and shallows lives whole, by part two we get to know her a little better but the strongest characters end up being her grandmother and Dr. Moon. The myths, legends and traditions of the haenyeo make for a beautiful, “magical saga”, that they are real is a nod to the power and strength of women. The bonds of family, their power and status as divers does feel magical but the story is dark as a fairy tale when those leaning toward communism go against the American troops establishing their presence on Jeju. Escape is the only option, if you can make it out alive. I went on to read about Jeju and it’s ‘independent spirit’ throughout history, it made for a richer understanding of what happened in this novel. This is quite a debut that feels magical, but the magic is smothered by the harsh brutalities of war and politics, turning it into heavier read.

Publication Date: November 10, 2020

Alcove Press
Was this review helpful?
This was one of the books I was looking foward to the most, and was so happy when I was given the opportunity to get this arc, so thank you Netgalley, Sumi Hahn and Alcove Press. 

Historical fiction and anyone who would like to read an amazing story will love this, I would absolutely recommend. 

It tells the story of Junja, Suwol and many other incredible side characters as they go through trauma, hardships, and many other heartbreakingly human things about the hanyeo in korea, there is also politics and war, which makes the story even more interesting, I cried, I laughed, I lived this book. 
Would totally recommend to everyone. Thank you once again. Would love to read more of Sumi's writing.
Was this review helpful?
this was a really enjoyable read, the characters were great and I appreciated that it was based on a true story. I enjoyed going on this journey.
Was this review helpful?
Unable to download this Book it keeps telling me there is an  error  attached to this File. I was deeply upset about this .
Was this review helpful?
Simply stated: The Mermaid from Jeju is down-right magical book.  Set part in present day America and part in postwar Korea, it is equal parts history lesson and fairy tale.  Beautifully rendered, with language that sweeps you away to the little island of Jeju, you find yourself longing to visit the isle and its naturally rugged beauty of the past.

The book is told in two parts, with Part One being told mostly from the point of view of our leading lady Junja.  The reader becomes so absorbed in the rich story telling that when reaching Part Two, which switches gears to Junja’s husband’s point of view, it is almost disorienting.  But author Sumi Hahn deftly weaves the two halves of the novel together like fine embroidery, gently looping and back-stitching and connecting each character and piece of the story together into a mesmerizing tapestry.

A rock-solid debut that portends amazing things to come from Ms. Hahn.  Highly-recommended, this novel is a great choice for book club readers – a tale so deeply atmospheric that it will linger well after it’s finished, much in the vein David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

The Mermaid of Jeju is available December 8th in hardcover or Kindle, and audio CD from Alcove Press, a recently-launched imprint of Crooked Lane Books that specializes in book club fiction.

A big thank you to Sumi Hahn, Alcove Press, and NetGalley for providing a complimentary Advance Reader Copy in exchange for this honest review.

Was this review helpful?
I have so many feelings after reading this book that I think it will not be easy to write a clear review. Don’t get me wrong, the story is amazing and intense, but so vivid that it makes you wonder what type of world we are creating for our children, full of monsters and pain. Why?
I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Korea’s past, it had always been for me a country too far to study at school or to feel related to their history. This has changed for the last few months, it’s a country that has fought for their freedom again and again, with multiple loses and pain, but has survived. This book tries to make the reader more interested in a country we don’t know much, but that we all should value and respect, they have gained it.
This is the story of a Haenyŏ, a mermaid from Jeju, how she left the country she loved to survive a war and never returned. Yes, this is not a happy book, but it is in a special way; it’s about family, love, war and survival. All of these elements are so skilfully combined in the story that is difficult to talk about one without relating it to the others.
Don’t be scared to read something that will make change your feelings/emotions toward the world, sometimes is the best way to change everything; between real facts, legends and love this is the book that will possibly change your life. Ready?
Was this review helpful?
This was a beautifully written, but very tragic story about a Korean haenyeo. The fascinating haenyeo is a woman, deep sea diver in Korea. They still exist but their numbers are dwindling. I enjoyed learning some of the history of them and Korean culture in general. The author, Sumi Hahn, writes of the devastation and atrocities of war, while weaving beautiful stories of love, friendship, sacrifices, loyalty and loss. 
*Thank you NetGalley and Crooked Lane Boss for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
This was a great book that mixes war with mermaids. Wondering if a mermaid can fall in love with a human. It was interesting to see how Goh Junja and Yang Suwol relationship unfold in this story.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this one and Junja ‘s story. I enjoyed learning the history of WW II through the lens of Korea. It is a masterpiece of historical fiction
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed this historical fiction and was intrigued by the history offered about what happened in Korea at the end of WWII and the Americans entered the scene. Fascinating and terrible. The story is primarily about Junja, a haenyeo (an elite group of women divers) in Jeju. The plot takes off right away as she convinces her mother she is mature enough to deliver seafood to a wealthy mountain family, a day's journey from the coast where she lives. Along the way, she meets a young man, who turns out to be the son of the wealthy family, and is smitten.
The story could coast along on this plot line, but the author only allows us to enjoy this budding love for a brief moment before the war comes crashing in. I won't spoil the plot for others, but I have to say there is a dichotomy between the first and second halves of the book that don't mesh well. The tone and style are so different that they could be written by different people. I found myself wishing the first author stayed with the book. I give the first half five stars, but the second half only three stars. I found myself disappointed in the end.
Was this review helpful?