The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women

Book - 2019
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"A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island. Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village's all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook's mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger. Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook's differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother's position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point. This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story--one of women's friendships and the larger forces that shape them--The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives"-- Provided by publisher.
"A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, [2019]
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9781501154850
Branch Call Number: FIC SEE
Characteristics: 374 pages ; 24 cm


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Jan 12, 2020

Good story, believable characters and fascinating historical and cultural details.

Jan 07, 2020

THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN is a tale about the strength of women and the strength of friendship. This compelling drama, set on beautiful Jeju Island, begins in 1938 and spans several turbulent and violent decades in Korean history. Rich in period and cultural detail, this book offers a fascinating look at the real-life matriarchal Haenyeo society of female divers within its storyline. Author Lisa See proves, once again, why she is one of my favorite writers of historic fiction. ***OF NOTE: There is a wealth of informative material (articles, photos, and videos) about the Haenyeo, their culture, and the history of Jeju Island on

STPL_Emily Dec 27, 2019

I really enjoyed reading this one. Lisa See has a captivating written voice. I highly enjoyed learning about the haenyeo and the book gives an interesting perspective on the affects of World War II and colonialism on the remote island of Jeju. The story of the two women's friendship is beautiful and heartbreaking. If you like historical fiction, female friendship, and stories that inspire as well as frustrate, you will want to read this novel!

Oct 21, 2019

This is a great story (no surprise) from Lisa See, but the historical events of WWII as related from the perspective of a native of Jeju Island (long taken control by Korea) astounded me. I am now searching for other accounts from non-U.S. sources covering WWII to the Korean War that will reveal what was actually happening.


When I read the synopsis for this book, I was immediately interested. I was totally thrilled, but not at all surprised, when I discovered that Lisa See is also the author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, which I absolutely loved. Her writing doesn't disappoint. This far reaching tale covers decades in the lives of the people of Jeju Island. You will travel with Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja through time and space as you learn about their family, friends and way of life in this matri-focal society. Young-sook and Mi-ja are complex characters who face tough decisions that will have far reaching consequences for many people. I found great value in reading the Afterword for this historical fiction book.

Sep 10, 2019

Mary Ellen

Aug 25, 2019

This takes place on Jeju Island, South Korea. It is a wonderful cultural story but even more interesting from a historical viewpoint.

Aug 05, 2019

This was another amazing book by Lisa See. The author is a great researcher and a captivating storyteller. I learned so much about the culture and customs of the haenyeo, and she weaves such an interesting story of lives of the women. I love to read great literature that both engages me and teaches me about the world - this book was a great read!

Aug 03, 2019

deeply researched, historically grounded, deals with big themes like revenge, forgiveness, subjugation, misogyny, women's strength, colonialism. good plot, lots of local color. a rewarding read!

Jul 11, 2019

4 stars. Lisa See writes interesting books and this was no exception. Set on the Korean island of Jeju, we meet two young girls Mi-ja and Young-sook who begin learning how to be haenyeo, members of the island's all female diving co-operative. The two girls come from very different backgrounds but become best friends. At the time they met, Jeju had been under the rule of the Japanese and the book follows the girls through the Second World War and afterwards. The girls go through so much together and are tested over and over again by circumstances. The friendship is fractured and the women endure a long period where they were estranged. It was interesting reading about the culture of the island, distinct from that of Korea proper and what they endured. I also found the culture of the haenyeo very interesting. Very much set up on matriarchic lines, it was also interesting to hear how the women thought of the men in their lives. An interesting read all in all.

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Jan 07, 2020

“The sea, it is said, is like a mother. The salt water, the pulse and surges of the current, the magnified beat of your heart, and the muffled sounds reverberating through the water together recall the womb.” - p. 22

Jan 07, 2020

“No one picks a friend for us; we come together by choice. We are not tied together through ceremony or the responsibility to create a son; we tie ourselves together through moments. The spark when we first meet. Laughter and tears shared. Secrets packed away to be treasured, hoarded, and protected. The wonder that someone can be so different from you and yet still understand your heart in a way no one else ever will.” - p. 36

Jan 07, 2020

“The sea is better than a mother. You can love your mother, and she still might leave you. You can love or hate the sea, but it will always be there. Forever. The sea has been the center of her life. It has nurtured her and stolen from her, but it has never left.” - p. 79

Jan 07, 2020

“They did this to me. They did that to me. A woman who thinks that way will never overcome her anger. You are not being punished for your anger. You're being punished by your anger.” - p. 350


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