Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

The short blurb bit: Years ago I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and became enamored with Lisa See’s writing. The Island of Sea Women is a beautiful novel based on the lives of women living on Jeju Island in South Korea.

The descriptive bit: Women feature strongly in this novel. In particular, the friendship between Mi-ja and Young-sook. They grew up together on the island… but were from very different backgrounds. Young-sook is the daughter of a haenyeo and will continue in her mother’s footsteps. The haenyeo and (now world-famous) women who free dive to unusual depths to harvest a variety of creatures and plants from the ocean. On the other hand, Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator.

My thoughts bit: It’s a pleasure to read about such strong and amazing female characters. Steeped in the traditions of their world, Mi-ja and Young-sook grow up strong and independent. They have the remarkable opportunity to grow up in a unique world in which women are the providers and men are the ones who are at home parenting the children. This book follows the intertwined lives of these two women from the time they meet at seven years old for seventy years.

Friendship… love and family are the themes in this book and it’s a remarkable adventure. Interwoven throughout the story are the losses and challenges that we face as we age. In the case of these two women, some may be harsher than what most of us have to deal with.

One of the things that I love about See’s books is how thoroughly she researches her topics. I always feel as though I’m being immersed in history. This book is no exception. I found myself searching out more information about the haenyeo and their amazing abilities.

The warnings bit: Obviously there are parts of this book that are difficult to read. These two women grew up in a time of great turmoil. There is violence, extreme poverty, fear and as there always is in life … loss.

I received an ARC of this book by Lisa See from Simon & Schuster Canada via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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