The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women

A Novel

eBook - 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.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2019
ISBN: 9781501154874
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: Recorded Books, Inc

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Feb 18, 2020

Excellent writing & research by Lisa See on a topic you won't typically come across in historical fiction dealing with the women divers (called haenyeo), who dove for hours each day without scuba gear to earn money gathering seafood to sell to support their families. I enjoyed how she delved deeply into that topic, then spanned through the decades of the 30's-WWII, & the changes that happened on Jeju Island that were affected by Japanese colonialism. This includes the brutal mass murders that were covered up by the government - a piece of history I was unaware of. I had a hard time dealing with the negative turn that the friendship took in the book, & the somewhat predictability of that outcome, & wished she had taken it in a different direction.

Feb 07, 2020

An interesting read that focuses on the rare way of life for women divers on Jeju Island in South Korea. But I was niggled by the author’s instructional style with excessive description of cultural events like birth, marriage ceremony and death/funerals, their history, and the science of diving without breathing apparatus. The story of the two girls sweeps through the time of Japanese occupation in the ’30s and ’40s, World War II, the Korean War and into the 21st century.

Feb 04, 2020

This is one of the best books I ever read. I had written a long review but neglected to save it, so it's lost forever, and I'm not going to write another one because the people who've reviewed it here do a good job of telling what you'll read about in it. I think there's more to the story and characters than even they say, but I hope you'll figure that out for yourself by reading it. By the way, I don't tend to like the style of alternating chapters from the past and then the present and then the past, on and on. My recommendation with this one would be to find the chapter that is about the farthest past, read that one first, and keep going in chronological order, not the order in which they are presented. That's what I always do when reading books that alternate in the way this one does. But that's just me; you might like it the way it's presented.

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.

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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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