The Island of Sea Women : A Novel

The Island of Sea Women : A Novel

Book - 2020
Average Rating:
Rate this:

"A mesmerizing new historical novel" ( O, The Oprah Magazine ) from Lisa See, the bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane , about female friendship and devastating 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 find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, 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. 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 forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

"This vivid...thoughtful and empathetic" novel ( The New York Times Book Review ) illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge and the men take care of the children. "A wonderful ode to a truly singular group of women" ( Publishers Weekly ), The Island of Sea Women is a "beautiful story...about the endurance of friendship when it's pushed to its limits, and you...will love it" ( Cosmopolitan ).
Publisher: Canada :, Scribner,, 2020
ISBN: 9781501154867
Branch Call Number: Book Club Set
Characteristics: 384 pages ; 2 x 13 cm
Alternative Title: Book Club Set


From Library Staff

List - New Book Club Sets @ RPL
BHB_RS Jun 14, 2018

A mesmerizing new historical novel about female friendship and devastating family secrets on a small Korean island. Explores how culture survives and morphs in this story of a Korean female diving collective.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Mar 29, 2021

I listened to this, and I'm glad I did. There were many unfamiliar words (unfamiliar to me, that is) and I wouldn't have known how to pronounce them if I'd read the book. It's a beautiful story.

Mar 28, 2021

Enjoyable read. A bit slow. Endearing characters and well plotted. There is quite a bit of history that I knew nothing about, so very enlightening. An excellent book club selection.

cfitzer1 Feb 24, 2021

recommended by Soyon

Feb 10, 2021

Modern Mrs Darcy

Dec 26, 2020

An interesting historical account, not so interesting from a diving/ocean perspective, which I feel is the real weakness of the book. It's too bad it wasn't written by someone who actually dives....scuba/free/snorkel.. there is next to no detail on the actual diving experience. I've come away not having any idea of what the ocean was like other than what they were diving for - sea urchins, abalone, octopus. The best part is the pig latrines - didn't enjoy the interpersonal "saga" so much.

Oct 12, 2020

As a Korean born/ US raised child of the 70s, I know very little of my birthplace. This wonderful book seamlessly weaves history, culture and human experiences into a highly entertaining read set in a UNESCO world heritage site.
This is one of the best books I've read in 2020. Lisa See is truly a gifted storyteller.

Sep 21, 2020

This was an interesting book. I listened to it which I was glad to have done, because there were many Korean words in it that I would have tripped on if I had read it. The story is very educational about Korean history, the sea women, and interwoven with a story of friendship and the difficulty of forgiveness.

JCLSarahZ Aug 11, 2020

A powerful family saga about growing up in a Matriarchal society on the remote Korean island of Jeju during the Japanese occupation. This is a well written piece of historical fiction about the amazing Sea Women of Korea. Captivating and heart-wrenching all at once.

Aug 07, 2020

a surprise matriarchal society -

EverythingTouches Jul 06, 2020

Full of strong women characters and describes the rich history of the area. Enjoyed the learning about the unique culture of the island.

View All Comments


Add a Quote
Mar 21, 2021

If eighty-five years have taught her anything, it's that governments come and go and that whoever and whatever comes next will eventually become rotten.' -p.171

Jan 07, 2020

“The sea, it is said, is like a mother. The salt water, the pulse and surges of the current, the magnified beat of your heart, and the muffled sounds reverberating through the water together recall the womb.” - p. 22

Jan 07, 2020

“No one picks a friend for us; we come together by choice. We are not tied together through ceremony or the responsibility to create a son; we tie ourselves together through moments. The spark when we first meet. Laughter and tears shared. Secrets packed away to be treasured, hoarded, and protected. The wonder that someone can be so different from you and yet still understand your heart in a way no one else ever will.” - p. 36

Jan 07, 2020

“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. The sea has been the center of her life. It has nurtured her and stolen from her, but it has never left.” - p. 79

Jan 07, 2020

“They did this to me. They did that to me. A woman who thinks that way will never overcome her anger. You are not being punished for your anger. You're being punished by your anger.” - p. 350

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities 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.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at RPL

To Top