Island of the Sea Women

Island of Sea Women

This is a terrific and remarkable novel.  It is a novel that blends friendship, loyalty, tradition, history, anger, forgiveness and acceptance.  Set in Korea, we follow two young girls through their early friendship to old age.  We watch their families grow, die, become estranged.  It is a generational novel where we learn of the hundred year old tradition of the haenyeo, femaile divers who are the breadwinners for their families.  I had never heard of this before and learned, through Lisa See, the skill that it requires, in addition to the danger, of becoming a haenyeo.  

The setting of the story is on Jeju Island, which bears the history of tremendous violence to the Korean people in the twentieth century.  Amidst the Japanese domination and the subsequent freedom of the people and then the separation of North and South Korea,  this story unfolds.  I admit that the violence of 4.3 was incredibly hard to read or listen to, but the story is a must read.

Young Sook and MiJa are friends forever.  MiJa is the abandoned daughter of a Japanese collaborator but Young Sook’s mother gives meaning and acceptance to MiJa’s life, teaching her to become a diver.  The lives of these main characters and all the supporting characters are forever entwined making this an important book to read.  Lots to discuss…..highly recommended