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Girl Well Read

Girl Well Read 

Published book reviewer, blogger of books & book lifestyle products, wine drinker and polka dot lover. I’d love to review your book next!  Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@girlwellread), Pintrest, Litsy, Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, and ReadFeed (Girl Well Read).

 

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women - Lisa See

A special thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster Canada, and Scribner for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Lisa See's newest novel is set on the small Korean island of Jeju and is about female friendship and family secrets.

Mi-ja and Young-sook are best friends that are from vastly different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they become divers like the rest of the women in their seaside village. The all-female diving collective is led by Young-sook’s mother. Even though they are "baby divers," the girls realize that with this great responsibility comes great danger.

The novel spans several decades and is anchored with vignettes set in 2008. These vignettes that are dispersed throughout the story provide clues that move the reader forward, but at the same time, anchor them in the past. Beginning during the Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 40s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, and in the modern era which introduces the divers to wet suits and cell phones.

Jeju's residents are caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will eventually inherit her mother’s position as their leader. The girls have shared more than just dives, they have shared life's milestones and all of their secrets. But when outside forces turn their world upside down, it become too much for their friendship to survive.

The second half of the novel chronicles the 4.3 Incident. Named for the date it began, which was April 3, 1948, three years after Japan surrendered occupation of Korea, tens of thousands of people were killed. See dramatizes the atrocities committed by the military during the Bukchon massacre in a harrowing scene in which Young-sook loses both the majority of her family and her friendship to Mi-ja.

See's novel is incredibly rich in culture and history, both of which are marred by grief and a monumental historic event. Her writing is intricate and moving, and innately female. She explores the relationships between women: mother-daughter, sister, coworker, and best friend. The best friend dynamic is a particular kind of intimacy that opens you up to betrayal because there are things that you would only tell your best friend. In her novels, it is rarely the men that bring these women any joy. Abuse of male power is also another popular theme whether it be fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers, or bosses.