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The Island of Sea Women

A Novel
By: Lisa See
Narrated by: Jennifer Lim
Length: 13 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (955 ratings)

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Publisher's 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 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 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

Critic Reviews

"Narrator Jennifer Lim underscores the multiple layers of this audiobook about two friends who grew up in Jeju Island, Korea...  Lim's expressive delivery highlights protagonist Young-sook's personality and complex feelings... Lim's clear and sensitive portrayals, complete with believable accents, make it easy for listeners to keep track of the characters." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Wonderful historical fiction

Reading this is a captivating way to learn about a matriarchal society that most westerners are not familiar with. I will remember and ponder this story for a long time.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Overly dramatic read

I love Lisa See\s stories and this one is no exception. However the read on this is too dramatic. It takes away from the story. The readers diction is great and she pronounces the Korean well but I really would like to hear this read with a softer style.

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

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I get the point

I love Lisa See's books and always learn something new. In this case it is two-fold: the Haenyeo culture and the political times of Korea in the 40's. I had to finally turn it off after it went on and on (and on and on) in great detail of the violence that ensued as a result of the political climate for which the story takes place. I just could not listen any more. Enough! Point taken. Unfortunately with audio books, you can't just "skim" to get past certain parts without the risk of losing a significant part of the plot.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Powerful

This book will stat with me a long time. The story and message are powerful. I find myself wanting to read it again from the beginning. Lisa See's books are all extraordinary but this may be my new favorite. I highly suggest the narration.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A story shaped around history

I kept looking for time and places to listen as I wanted to know what would happen next. Lisa See learns so much about a place, its people and its history and creates a story around this. In this book I learned about Korea and in particular the Korean island of Jeju, Haenyeo, where the breadwinners are the matriarchal society of women divers. The story spans 3 generations, sharing the heart wrenching stories of Young-sook & Mi-ja who share so much as deep friends for whom outside circumstances and blindness to what the other endures, cuts deep wedges into that friendship consequently impacting the relationships of their offspring and grandchildren. Lisa See never disappoints.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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a women's story

Korea, so much in the news, so little of the stories of real people living real lives...we must learn and appreciate the parts we all play in all the stories...

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Just missed being great.

I have read a number of books by Lisa See and have always enjoyed them greatly, while learning a lot. This one didn't hit the same note. At times it felt like a history text book, not a novel. Yes, horrible things occurred at the hands of foreign governments, and we all need to know that and remember it. But I often felt like I was listing to a mandatory lecture for a school credit. And it is difficult in an audio book to just skim sections, although I did hit the 30 second forward on my Apple app a few times. Also, the narration wasn't pleasing. Finally, reading the book in print might improve the experience. I found it difficult to keep characters names straight.

However, I loved the introduction to a female centered society.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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1st Review in 15 years!

I've been a member of Audible for more than 15 years and I have not been touched so deeply by a book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Compelling History and Strong Characters

The backdrop of this novel tells the story of Korea from Japanese colonialism, through World War II and American occupation, and into the Korean War. The narrative core focuses on the lives and relationships of Young-sook and Mi-ja, two women from different backgrounds who become childhood friends and continue influencing one another throughout their lives. Young-sook's strength of will reminds me of my Chinese grandmother, but then Mi-ja is strong in her own way.

Lisa See is really good at making difficult historical topics compelling reads through well-fleshed out characters. I love how sympathetic and complicated everyone was. I am so glad I read this, because my education on this period of Korean history was significantly lacking. It deals with really tough subject matter, so I would only recommend this for senior level high schoolers or older.

What gets people to pick this up is its primary setting: the island of Jeju, where all-female diving collectives rule. They brave the rough and cold waters to sell and consume marine life in order to support their families. This tough way of life came about because of the strict Japanese employment regulations, so Jeju men became accustomed to caring for the children and cooking the meals while the women worked on the waves whenever weather allowed. Gender relations alone were so fascinating here, and I wish there were more descriptions of the island, the waters, and the plants and animals found there.

Lisa See's best quality as a writer is depicting relations between women, but I only give this 4 stars because there was lost potential in what could have been portrayed about this unique island life. I learned a lot and was compelled by the story, but I wasn't as immersed as I would have liked.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Entertaining & historically informative ~

This is the 3rd of Lisa See’s novels I’ve enjoyed. Her characters are many and a select few are well developed. i learned a lot about that period of Korean history because as I was reading I found myself “googling” Jeju Island and the Incident 4 13 (horrific). ~ So many thanks, Ms. See, for the inspiration!
I couldn’t rate this work higher ~ it’s not quite at that level.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful