The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women

A Novel

Book - 2019
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"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"-- Provided by publisher.
"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"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Scribner,, 2019
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9781501154850
Characteristics: v, 374 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 11, 2019

4 stars. Lisa See writes interesting books and this was no exception. Set on the Korean island of Jeju, we meet two young girls Mi-ja and Young-sook who begin learning how to be haenyeo, members of the island's all female diving co-operative. The two girls come from very different backgrounds but become best friends. At the time they met, Jeju had been under the rule of the Japanese and the book follows the girls through the Second World War and afterwards. The girls go through so much together and are tested over and over again by circumstances. The friendship is fractured and the women endure a long period where they were estranged. It was interesting reading about the culture of the island, distinct from that of Korea proper and what they endured. I also found the culture of the haenyeo very interesting. Very much set up on matriarchic lines, it was also interesting to hear how the women thought of the men in their lives. An interesting read all in all.

Jun 30, 2019

Lyrical story of deep friendship between two girls growing up on Jeju Island in Korea. They become divers and providers for their families in a matriarchal society. Horrific incidents (based in fact) occur on the island after WWII and a rift develops between the women. Later, the reader finds out how the two remain linked. A powerful story of survival, tragedy, forgiveness and redemption.

Jun 29, 2019

This is a novel which readers will continue to think about after the last page. I had no previous knowledge of the island of Jeju or Korean woman who dived to sustain their families, and I was overwhelmed by the experiences of these women during and after World War II. At times, this novel is tragic and there are horrific events, but these events did occur. Mostly, this is about a friendship between 2 women from Korea, and the circumstances which influence their friendship through their lifetimes.

Jun 23, 2019

I'm a huge Lisa See fan and this book sounded fantastic...unfortunately I'm returning it after reading about 200 pages. I just couldn't get into's soooo extremely slow and no plot has yet to develop. The writing seems completely different than all her others as well....super disappointed :(

Jun 17, 2019

Yes to all of the above! Quite enjoyed learning about the sea women and their many struggles.
There are other “sea peoples” around Asia including men. What a hard way to live.

Apr 11, 2019

A fascinating glimpse into a unique society and the women who comprise its backbone alongside a tale of friendship, betrayal, and eventual forgiveness.

Apr 02, 2019

Lisa See has come up with another winner in "The Island of Sea Women." The book is set over generations in the island of Jeju in Korea. The story revolves around two young women, Mi-Ja and Young-sook who work together in their women's all-female diving collective. It is interesting to read about the matriarchal society which nevertheless values sons. The women respect the sea and as Young-sook's mother says, "The sea is better than a mother. You can love your mother, and she still might leave you. You can love or hate the sea, but it will always be there. Forever." This is a book about love, friendship, family, and work ethics and ties everything together really well. A must read.

Mar 25, 2019

Absolutely outstanding historical novel. I had never heard of the sea women of Korea and found this book riveting. It is full of historical detail and information about this fascinating culture of women. It is a moving story of women and family but so much more. I read it over the space of two days and was sorry when it ended. After reading the last page and closing the book I cried for a while, overwhelmed by the suffering and hardships of these women. But I tell you what, they were/are some invincible, heroic and stoic humans. Wow. I had to put the rest of Lisa See's books on my reading list. I can't stop thinking about the characters in this book. Korea is an amazing country with an amazing history. (I also went on Google maps to look around the island of Jeju and found those black rock walls that feature so prominently in the book. Wow, loved the tour of the coastline on Google maps!)

ArapahoeKati Mar 12, 2019

If you liked the friendship in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and you love the ocean, pick this up. There are some incredibly sad parts and some beautiful descriptions of the haenyeo life and culture that will probably be gone in the next twenty years (UNESCO lists it as an intangible cultural heritage).


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at SMPL

To Top