Book Review

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

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To understand everything is to forgive.

This is perfect novel. It’s multi-layered, riveting and taught me so much about Jeju Island and haenyeo.

Haenyeo are female divers in the province of Jeju – a place I’ve always described as the Hawaii of South Korea. They are some of the strongest free divers in the world. They dive for a living harvesting mollusks, abalone, seaweed, and other edibles from the ocean. I remember visiting Jeju with my mom when I was 16. There was a row of very very old women with a collection of buckets filled with seawater and many creatures I had never seen before. My mom picked a live octopus and some sea cucumber, and the haenyeo chopped it up right in front of us. We ate that octopus while the tentacles were still moving. My mom made me drink Soju which is the first time I ever drank alcohol.⠀

The novel chronicles the friendship of Mi-ja and Young-sook, two haenyeo from very different backgrounds, over many decades. You see the two sides of friendship – both their strong love for each other and but also how steadfast love in a friendship can be even after years of resentment.⠀

All set in a fascinating backdrop of history. I learned so much from this well-researched book about the history of Jeju and haenyeo. It was a perfect combination story and well-researched history. I developed an even bigger fascination of haenyeo and put every other book by Lisa See on my TBR. ⠀

Not only one of the best novels I’ve read this year, but it’s probably on my top ten. I can’t wait to read it again.

Rating: 5/5