Lisa See’s novels are always both entertaining and informative, and The Island of Sea Women is no exception. The novel begins when an elderly Haenyeo diver on the Korean island of Jeju is prompted to recall a long ago friendship by the arrival of a young Korean American girl in her village. It tells a story of friendship between two girls, Young-sook and Mi-ja, who support their families following the traditional Jeju occupation of free diving for fish and shellfish in the cold waters of Korea. The novel takes place during the years in which Korea was occupied first by the Japanese and then by the Americans. As they grow to become women and later mothers, the girls must face the many natural dangers of the ocean and the human dangers posed by political upheaval.
The Island of Sea Women enthralls with its layers of history, culture and geography and the way it explores the complex bond between these two young women as they struggle to survive and protect their friends and family during a turbulent period in Korea’s history. It is a story of love, grief and betrayal that may bring you to tears. If you haven’t read Lisa See’s work before, give yourself time to settle in to the world she creates. Patience will reward.