The Island of Sea Women (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

The Island of Sea Women (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

by Lisa See

Hardcover(Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

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This B&N Book Club Edition includes a personal essay from Lisa See, as well as a discussion guide.

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, 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. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. 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 the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982128173
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Edition description: Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 6,074
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of The Island of Sea Women, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and Dreams of Joy, which debuted at #1. She is also the author of On Gold Mountain, which tells the story of her Chinese American family’s settlement in Los Angeles. See was the recipient of the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Association of Southern California and the History Maker’s Award from the Chinese American Museum. She was also named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women.


Los Angeles, California

Date of Birth:

February 18, 1955

Place of Birth:

Paris, France


B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979

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The Island of Sea Women: A Novel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down and I'm almost finished!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was skeptical about this book since it’s outside of my normal reading picks. But I gave it a try. This took me on a journey. At one point isn’t the story I CRIED; literal tears. This was moving and paralleled with life events it was a great point of view.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you'd like a historical fiction book and want to learn about the island and women of Jeju then this is the book for you. I loved that I got to learn about a whole new culture and the women there were the breadwinners so it was a complete role reversal. It was interesting reading about the relationships of the characters. While this was a good read there was just something that let me put this book down and not "have" to read it and that's why I gave it a 3.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book
Ells-Reads More than 1 year ago
Not my usual kind of read, but maybe it ought to be. What a great book club selection by B&N! The history, setting, and relationships in the novel are all fascinating. I cannot imagine the amount of work the author put into this book. Amazing, and I appreciate every detail. A compelling read and highly recommended. When I was done I felt the way I did when I read The Shell Seekers long ago, which is a good thing--like a satisfying journey well completed. Bravo!
smg5775 More than 1 year ago
The women of Jeju Island off Korea's mainland dive to support their families. Young-sook dives as a young girl with her mother to learn the trade as well as learn to take care of her family. As a young married woman she dives to support her husband's family as well as her natal family. Tragedy strikes at all seasons of her life and she learns to live with them and move on raising and supporting her family through it all. This was a rough story to read. I did not know much about WWII in the Pacific nor about Korea. I learned a lot. These islanders endured so much. Nature can be hard but man is brutal. She loses some she love to the sea but many more are lost to the brutality of man. Young-sook had her pride and it takes her a long time to learn forgiveness. When she does, she gains so much. The story begins in 2008 then flashes back to different periods of her life. She is a survivor but what a cost.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I tried really to get through this book but couldnt follow so many different characters as they seemed to get lost with all the historical rhetoric. Sorry but not my cup of tea i guess!
Selena 12 months ago
A beautiful and emotional novel of strong women and culture. This is the first book I have read by Lisa See and it will not be the last. A book to be cherished but it will shake you to your core. This book follows the ancient Korean Haenyeo culture on the small island of Jeju. For generations, Haenyeo deep sea dive for sea creatures in order to provide for their families while the men stay home to care for the children. Two young girls, Young-sook and Mi-ja, who come from very different backgrounds become best friends and their lives become intertwined. I loved how the story was told from the perspective of Young-sook. The story shows Young-sook as she grows up as a teenager in the 1930's. We learn about her family and her experiences as a diver. We get to read of Young-sook's friendship with Mi-ja as it grows and is also strained by the tragedy of war. Then we also get to experience the story told from the year of 2008 when Young-sook is in her eighties. She is still diving in Jeju.
Deina More than 1 year ago
Wanted to read this book, because although I'd lived and studied abroad in Korea, I never knew the extent of Haenyeo culture. So man oh man was I hooked from the first few pages. It's as if you are living life right along Youngsook, to the point that you almost feel like you are her. Extremely well-written, and although it teaches you a lot about the culture, and history of Jeju, you don't feel like you're reading something educational, but instead, something purely emotional. The only book that I ever truly bawled my eyes out for (and more than once)! Best book I've read in years, hands-down, even made me write a book review for the first time!
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Lisa See's novel, The Island of Sea Women, is set on Jeju, an island off the coast of Korea. Young-sook and Mi-ja are best friends who are learning how to become divers, like Young-sook's mother. In their culture, the women are the breadwinners of the family, while the men stay home and take care of the young children and the home. Diving for fish (abelone and octopus are prized) can be dangerous, and the women work as a team to keep each other safe, but accidents do happen. Young-sook becomes betrothed to a teacher, but she is jealous that Mi-ja has captured the attention of a handsome businessman who lives in the city. Young-sook and her husband happily welcome three children into their lives. Mi-ja and her husband have a son, but Mi-ja's marriage is troubled. The Island of Sea Women begins during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and the people of Jeju fear the soldiers. When the Korean War begins, their country is torn apart as Russia and China back North Korean communists and the United States back South Korea. See describes what became known as the 4.3 Incident, where Koreans massacred their own people, including many people on Jeju, while the Americans did nothing to stop it. It is told in horrific detail, and the losses suffered by Young-sook cause a permanent fracture between her and Mi-ja. The book begins and ends in 2008 as a family of Americans have come to Jeju, now a popular tourist destination. A family of four are looking for anyone who knew a family member who used to be a diver on Jeju. Young-sook avoids the tourists in general, happy to just spend her time on the beach, but this family, particularly the teenage daughter, is persistent. The Island of Sea Women"is the kind of book you get lost in, taking the reader to an unfamiliar world. See clearly did a great deal of research to create her brilliant novel (as her acknowledgments pages attest), and it adds to the authenticity of the story. It is an emotional book, one that will bring tears to your eyes as you read about the inhumanity people inflict during war. But at its heart, it is a story of the friendship of two girls and what happens when that friendship is tested. This is a must-read book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
alexcan3 More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting and well-written novel. My husband is from Jeju, and he thought many aspects of daily life described, and the historical elements, were quite true to his experience on the island. See's writing style is vivid and vibrant. On many occasions, I felt that I could "see" to scenes as described in words on the page. While not an uplifting story, I was glad with the ending. Without ruining the plot, I was glad that the two friends never reconciled. I do believe there are many people who do not forgive. Whether it is the outcome that the reader wished for or not, I am glad that she told the story this way. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It seems impossible that Lisa See can continue to write amazing novels, The Island of Sea Women could actually be her best one to date. This extremely well researched novel takes place on the Island of JeJu in South Korea. It is a novel of intense friendship, hardship, war, love and loss. Haenyeo are sea women who risk their lives daily to provide food and an income for their family’s by diving down into the sea. It is fascinating to read about role reversals between men and women beginning in the 30s and continuing for decades. It is a time when women were the ones to make a living supporting their families while men stayed home to watch the children and cook. The political unrest through the Korean War and the 4.3 Incident is difficult to read about and will haunt you. The Island of Sea Women comes out March 5th. It is a must read in 2019.
LiteratureWithLylan More than 1 year ago
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See The first Lisa See book I read was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I read it in high school and really enjoyed it (which says a lot because I actually was not a big reader in high school). Fast-forward to a few weeks ago when I was browsing new ARCs on NetGalley and came across The Island of Sea Women. When I saw it was by Lisa See, I requested it right away! The book did start off a little slow but it picked up fairly quickly and I was completely hooked. This book was phenomenal. I was really expecting to find a note at the end of the book that the story was based off of a true story and I was expecting an author’s note thanking the person who shared their story with her… But the characters are completely fictional! The way Lisa See wrote the story, it felt like I was reading a memoir. It felt SO REAL. I felt everything. When I started this book, I did not know anything of the Jeju island. I did not know it existed. I also did no know the haenyeo existed. I learned so much. They did not teach us this stuff in school when discussing World War II and its aftermath. I knew nothing of the cultures and people that were not the “major” parties of the war and how their lives were affected. And while reading the book, I found myself reacting to events that I DID learn about because it’s just so… different. It’s like a different perspective. The events we all know occurred affected different groups in different ways and reading them in this book was like hearing about them for the first time. The haenyeo were strong women who worked in the sea. The haenyeo culture revolved around these sea women who did all of the hard and dangerous work to provide for their family while husbands stayed at home and basically hung-out, made sure the house didn’t fall apart, and cooked a little. WHO KNEW! I had no idea such a culture existed in Eastern Asia. Coming from a Southeast Asian background, I grew up with the idea that the men provided and the women stayed home (of course, that is the old-school thinking and times have evolved). Mi-ja and Young-Sook met at the age of 7. Mi-ja was basically a neglected orphan living with her aunt and uncle and Young-Sook’s family took her in and helped her build a life. The two became inseparable and grew up to be like sisters. They became haenyeo together and joined the diving collective together, travelled together, got married around the same time, and even had their first child around the same time. About half way through the book, everything changes. Tragedy strikes and their lives are changed forever. We are able to see, through the eyes of the characters, the effects of World War II. We watch what happens before and after the country of Korea is split into the North and the South. WARNING: THIS BOOK DOES CONTAIN SOME GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. So if that’s not your thing, beware. But I don’t think it was too much. I actually think it was the perfect amount to really grasp the feel and setting of the story. It’s a time of war. It’s painful, graphic, and horrifying. Lisa See had me completely and totally engrossed in her story. Her words read to me like a person telling their horrifying story. It was such a beautifully written book. This is a story of strength, triumph, pain, suffering, love, loyalty, and so much more. Thank you Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
LisaN123 More than 1 year ago
A very powerful heart wrenching read, you will learn the culture, be surprised at the culture differences. See how women are valued differently than men. This isn't just a great read, it's an experience, that will stay with you forever. I learned a lot, and cried. Friendship, love, loss, war, betrayal, sisterhood, strength, sacrifice, regret, and forgiveness. Important:(Adult Read)(War)(PTSD)
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Two friends spend their lives loving and hating each other, being haunted by the mistakes affecting them and their haenyeo community. They are women divers who have learned to dive without the use of diving masks, oxygen or any other supportive equipment. They rely on learning to breathe in vital air and breathe out the song of sumbisori, air let out with a unique sound for each woman. They live on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea, a land they believe was created by the Shaman Goddesses, creating a land of lava rocks, cones and walls. The residents have created a matriarchal society loved by each resident. Their story is a celebration of life! Young-Sook has tremendous respect for her mother who is Chief of the haenyeo in one of the local communities until she dies in an accident while diving. Another young woman has another accident that changes her life forever. Their work guarantees survival, especially in the troublesome times that soon follow. Jeju Island residents are the subjects of the Japanese Army who have invaded the country and mandated laws of behavior, inflicting death on many for the slightest infraction of rules. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. This reputation haunts her for her entire life. Even though Young-Sook’s mother takes her in with kindness and teachers her to be a haenyeo, Young Sook’s grandmother despises her and will never trust her, a belief that will literally become part of Mi-ja’s choices during one of the most tragic, devastating moments of the story. Young Sook marries the love of her life but Mi-ja marries a man who is evil personified, an act none will understand until it is too late and after too much betrayal and damage. An uprising called the 4.3 incident instigates the death of thousands. The deaths to three members of Young-Sook’s family are tragically depicted, all because of Mi-ja’s response to a request begged by her best friend. The love between these two women will stay strong, although readers will for a time doubt the primitive and passionate aspects of that love. Scientists and sociologists will make this community a subject of lengthy study and amazed respect! It is the children of these women who will clarify truth for them and the readers. These pages commemorate a truly unique and amazing story that readers will never forget! This is astonishing historical fiction, a must read for all!
rendezvous_with_reading More than 1 year ago
My favorite Lisa See book yet! Thank you Scribner Books for this free copy to review! Young-sook and Min-ja are young girls in the 1930s, learning to be haenyeo in their village's all-female diving collective on Korea's Jeju Island. Diving and harvesting from the sea on a daily basis bonds them closer than sisters over the years. But they live in turbulent times in Korea; from the Japanese annexing of Korea, through WW2, the Korean War and its aftermath. As events spiral out of control around them, a horrific event and betrayal pulls them apart irrevocably. There are so many interesting facets to this novel! First this matriarchal society of haenyeo. These women divers are the bread winners of their families. They support their families from sea life they harvest and sell, while their husbands stay at home and raise the children. The women feel that the men are too soft to do the dangerous deep sea diving they do (without wetsuits and oxygen tanks). Not only is the work dangerous, but the body is exposed to salt, sun and freezing temperatures. Then there is the tumultuous history of Jeju Island. There were times in novel that I had to set the book aside to catch my breath and mend my heart. Not only had I never heard of Jeju Island, but I certainly was unaware of the horrors inflicted on this beautiful place. I spent some time doing extra reading on Jeju and looking at photos of it today. Its hard to imagine a island that looks like a paradise could have such a dark history. Central to the novel though, is the story of Young-sook and Min-ja's friendship and how the events around them test their friendship to degrees that most of us cant imagine. Friendship and love is replaced with anger and resentment that affects both their families for generations.
HelenaM More than 1 year ago
Another excellent book by Lisa See.
lee2staes More than 1 year ago
The Island of Sea Women is based on the history of the Korean sea divers on the island of Jeju, and provides very accurate historical detail as well as a fascinating fictional story of these women divers. The women in this society are the breadwinners, sea divers, who risk extreme hazards to provide for their families. This is a story of friendship, resilience and forgiveness. It is vividly and beautifully written and so engrossing I didn’t want to put it down. I highly recommend it. I was honored to receive a free advance copy of this book from NetGalley and the Publisher, Scribner in exchange for an honest review.
andi22 More than 1 year ago
2.5 but rounding up because it was well written and I learned MANY interesting tidbits--particularly about Jeju, the haenyo, and the matriarchal culture. I'm [again] in the distinct minority of those who read and rated this book. From 1938 to 2008, this book covers a wide sweep of history. But, perhaps this book suffered in comparison to White Chrysanthemum which I recently read and found a far more compelling story; in that case I was hooked from the start. I was never drawn into this book. In fact, I was often quite bored. Sad because Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorites and other Lisa See book's also were better. Kudos to See for all the research she did. I had to use a dictionary for many of the terms--sumisori, bulteok, olle, tewak, bitchang, and so on. The book is chock full of information. Shamans, spirits, and rituals, the roles of women and those of men, the fear of the Japanese. Clothes died in unripe persimon juice to stave off odors. I liked the "folk" [?] descriptions --such as swallowing water breath, water work, quiet drowning. And, for example, how diving affected hearing and voice. The societal setup. All this was interesting, I just wasn't captivated by the story. So a hesitant recommend. Just not a favorite.
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
Young-Sook lived on the Korean island of Jeju. The day she met Mi-ja, she knew she had met her best friend forever. They looked forward to that day when they would join the powerful collective of women divers, the haenyeo, for which their island was famous. As they grow and become baby divers, they learn a lot about life and love, and they grow even closer together. It isn’t until one terrible and fateful day that they have a deadly misunderstanding, and that close and precious friendship is shattered forever. This is an amazing book! Not only did I not know of the women diver’s collective in Jeju, but I also did not know about their woman-centered society. On this tiny island in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the women were the breadwinners and the men “sat under the big tree thinking big thoughts.” The haenyeo earned the income, while the men took care of the children. They made a good living, too. They dove deep, considering they used no diving gear. They were amazing and strong women. This book also tenderly and compassionately explains what it was like to live in Korea during the Japanese colonization and afterward when they were in the middle of fighting factions. What a valuable and wonderful book!
bamcooks More than 1 year ago
One of the things I enjoy most about historical fiction is learning something new that I never knew before. I've been to Korea twice this year in my reading--the first being Pachinko which dealt with the prejudice of the Japanese towards Koreans. This is a story of friendship and forgiveness. It is set on the island of Jeju and tells the story of the haenyeo--the women of the island who dive into the sea to harvest its rich abundance. The book begins in 2008 and centers on Young-sook, a famous granny diver and cultural treasure. She thinks: "We are but living myths, and soon we will be gone." A family of Americans want to discuss the past with her, asking if she remembers a young woman in their photos. Young-sook denies this and does everything she can to avoid them. These parts are told in third person but when she remembers the past, the story switches to first person pov, beginning in April of 1938. Korea has been colonized by Japan for many years at this point and the islanders long to be free. Jeju of the past was a matrifocal culture--a society focused on the women sea divers. They support their families by this work while their husbands stay home with the children and cook dinner. Young-sook's mother is the head of their diving collective of thirty women from their neighborhood of Hado and is responsible for everyone's safe return to shore. Young-sook becomes close friends with Mi-ja, an orphan girl whose father was labelled a Japanese collaborator, which causes her to be looked down upon. The two girls learn to dive together and are partners. Over the years, they swear they will always be best friends...but something horrible does eventually come between them. Many years later, Young-sook comes to the realization that "to understand is to forgive." Beautifully written, deeply felt--this new book from Lisa See is a gem! Highly recommend. Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with an arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.