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Summary

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times best-selling 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 who 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 epic 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 wetsuits 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 listeners to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives. 

©2019 Lisa See (P)2019 Simon & Schuster UK

Critic reviews

"Lisa See excels at mining the intersection of family, friendship and history...This novel spans wars and generations, but at its heart is a beautifully rendered story of two women whose individual choices become inextricably tangled." (Jodi Picoult)

"I was spellbound the moment I entered the vivid and little-known world of the diving women of Jeju...No one writes about female friendship, the dark and the light of it, with more insight and depth than Lisa See." (Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees)

What listeners say about The Island of Sea Women

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  • Overall
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Fantastic introduction to a culture

Well written and engaging. Good historical account of the aftermath of ww2, and the further chaos it created.

3 people found this helpful

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absorbing story

overall the story was absorbing, however it was very slow starting and took a good few hours to become so. The narration is a little uninteresting, with no real variation in tone, but was very helpful when it came to the Korean words a phrases. Overall worth a listen

3 people found this helpful

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A Stunning Historical Saga

I absolutely loved this story. It totally overwhelmed me, with its poetic blend of traditional, conservatism contrasted with the mysterious world of shamanism. I entered an unknown world about female divers. It was beautifully narrated, and opened a window to a now lost word of female friendship, democratic working structure, and female independence..it also highlighted the pride that the haenyo took in their work. I loved the way that the sea was a key part of the background narrative, gently flowing in and out of the entire, narrative; joy and sorrow were depicted authentically, and some passages were extremely poignant. The most important part of this story is the way that friendship, loyalty, and misunderstanding causes deep pain and illustrates emotional frailty, but also remind us that love endures. I highly recommend this book. It really changed my perspective of what life is really about.

2 people found this helpful

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heart warming story

such a heart warming story..
must read and learnt a lot about the sea women culture as well..

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Emotional rollercoaster

Beautiful captivating story. The history was enlightening but full of heartbreak and misery that I could barely handle. It was too painful to listen to at some parts.

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borders on lecture

There is a fine balance to achieve in novels that also provide information about a different culture. In my opinion here it wasn't achieved. Some passages feel like lectures on indigenous customs. The narrator is quite irritating and makes it worse. I was very disappointed not to be able to finish it.

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Heart wrenching but full of wonder too

Although this a fictional story, the history around these women is real. The characters, their lives and emotions are gripping. This is a wonderful book.

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  • 18-08-21

A truly moving and beautiful story

A cathartic take of love, perception, betrayal , repentance and forgiveness in a changing and challenging world.

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Exquisite

Not sure where to begin here.

Beautiful prose, wonderful fully drawn and evolving characters, perfect narration.

I will not describe the story as it’s so much more than I could pathetically write, however the summary tells you all you need to know and the book delivers so much more.

I have enjoyed WW2 stories set in Europe, but I have a deficit of knowledge in what happened in the pacific rim.
It’s not a war book, it just skirts around this time as well as moving to present day.
It weaves an exquisite story of strong courageous women living and working their lives in and around the sea and so much more.

This is certainly up there in my favourite books.
Highly recommend

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Wonderful

This is a wonderful story and recording. I will look for more by the same author Lisa See