The Mermaid from Jeju
by Sumi Hahn
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Pub Date 08 Dec 2020 | Archive Date 10 Nov 2020
An AMAZON Editors Pick December 2020
A SHE READS Best Historical Fiction Novel Winter 2021
A BUSTLE Most Anticipated Winter 2021 Read
A LIBRO.FM Influencer Pick, December 2020
Inspired by true events on Korea's Jeju Island, Sumi Hahn's "entrancing [debut] novel, brimming with lyricism and magic" (Jennifer Rosner, The Yellow Bird Sings) explores what it means to truly love in the wake of devastation.
In the aftermath of World War II, Goh Junja is a girl just coming into her own. She is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. Confident she is a woman now, Junja urges her mother to allow her to make the Goh family's annual trip to Mt. Halla, where they trade abalone and other sea delicacies for pork. Junja, a sea village girl, has never been to the mountains, where it smells like mushrooms and earth. While there, she falls in love with a mountain boy Yang Suwol, who rescues her after a particularly harrowing journey. But when Junja returns one day later, it is just in time to see her mother take her last breath, beaten by the waves during a dive she was taking in Junja's place.
Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father. Everywhere she turns, Junja is haunted by the loss of her mother, from the meticulously tended herb garden that has now begun to sprout weeds, to the field where their bed sheets are beaten. She has only her grandmother and herself. But the world moves on without Junja.
The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan's forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops. Junja's canny grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea's occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. When Suwol is arrested for working with and harboring communists, and the perils of post-WWII overtake her homelands, Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she's ever known.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 104 members
This novel sucked me in from the very beginning, and left me gasping for breath by the end. The Mermaid from Jeju is a story about Goh Junja, one of the haenyeo on the island of Jeju. Set in 1948, within the perilous political climate following WWII, The Mermaid From Jeju is a hauntingly beautiful tale, and one I would recommend to anyone.
I will admit, I'm woefully uneducated about traditional Korean cultural and history, but this book was fascinating and educating at the same time. Everything from the beautiful descriptions, harsh political reality and the multi-faceted characters drew me in. I was rooting for Junja from the very start, until the very end. I sobbed just as hard as swooned while reading this novel .
I loved not only Suwol and Junja, but all the side characters as well - Peanut captured my heart and will not let it go.
I would recommend this book to anyone, especially fans of historical fiction. Thank you to Netgalley and Alcove Press for giving me the opportunity to read this novel, and thank you to Sumi Hahn for writing such a masterpiece.
A poignantly beautiful story which describes in detail the life and hardships of the haenyeo in Korea and gives a new perspective on some of the traumas in Korea's history through the creation of authentic characters. I would love to read more by Sumi Hahn.
Thank you to NetGalley, Alcove Press and Sumi Hahn for AN ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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