BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See [in Booklist]

They meet at age 7. Young-sook and her mother are working their garden; Mi-ja crouches among the sweet-potato plants, desperate to eat. They are on Korea’s Jeju Island, “known for its Three Abundances of wind, stones, and women, it was also acknowledged for lacking three other things: beggars, thieves, and locked gates.” Mi-ja is a city transplant living with relatives, who consider her a servant. She is also the village pariah because her late father was a collaborator with the brutal Japanese colonizers. Ironically, this becomes Mi-ja’s “best day” since being orphaned because she leaves Young-sook’s with a full belly, a surrogate mother, and a best friend.

Trained together as haenyeo – Jeju’s renowned sea women who free dive for sea life – Young-sook and Mi-ja share intimate joys and survive debilitating hardships into adulthood, wifehood, and motherhood, until an unfathomable tragedy sunders their closer-than-sisters bond.

Sixty years later, Young-sook is a national treasure, a world-traveled octogenarian haenyeo. On her shoreline appear Mi-ja’s granddaughter and her American family; Young-sook’s initial denials acquiesce to reveal a past driven by love, loss, betrayal, perhaps even forgiveness.

A stupendous multi-generational family saga, Lisa See’s (The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, 2017) latest also provides an enthralling cultural anthropology highlighting the soon-to-be-lost, matriarchal haenyeo phenomenon and an engrossing history of violently tumultuous 20th-century Korea. A mesmerizing achievement.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, January 1, 2019

Readers: Adult

Published: 2019


No Comment

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.