The Island of Sea Women

by Lisa See

What a fascinating story! And it’s based on a real place! So there’s an island in Korea named Jeju, and historically, women were the main breadwinners in their society. The primary industry was diving for all the various sea foods found on the ocean floor. The novel starts well before WWII, so there were no wet suits, no oxygen tanks, only women who dive into freezing waters as they hold their breath for longer and longer and longer. They are extraordinary athletes and the work is competitive and dangerous.

Besides the historical aspect of the novel, it’s truly a story about two friends from opposites sides of the tracks, so to speak. While they are strong leaders in their careers, marriage and family affiliations will drive wedges between them. Japanese occupation in WWII will further alienate them, and the Korean War will take its toll as well. Through it all, the connection forged between them at a very young age will never cease to affect their extended family for generations.

This story took me to a place I’d never been. The matriarchal society it depicts is fascinating and very different from everything I know. The characters are tough and tender at the same time, the foods described seem otherworldly, but the struggles they face are relatable no matter who you are, or where you’re from.


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