The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Literary Loop

In her new novel, New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the haenyeo, or sea-women divers who live on Jeju Island, South Korean’s largest island. The women spend most days diving into the frigid Korean Strait without oxygen tanks or wetsuits to gather conch, urchins and abalone to eat and to sell.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the island, 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. But despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore.

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 close bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

“A stupendous multigenerational family saga,” says Booklist. “A cultural anthropology highlighting the soon-to-be-lost, matriarchal haenyeo phenomenon and an engrossing history of tumultuous twentieth-century Korea.”