SOS Book Club Pick: The Island of Sea Women

Let’s learn more about Korea’s complex history by reading The Island of the Sea Women this month. February is cold, so it’s a great time to curl up at home with a book and memories of the sea.

About the South of Seoul Virtual Book Club

Looking for book recommendations? Welcome to the South of Seoul book club. We recommend a book every month. Such recommended books explore topics like 1) South Korean history or culture, 2) the complexity of cross-cultural life, 4) the exploration of life within the diaspora experience, and 5) lenses on Korean culture around the world.

Commitment to Accessibility

South of Seoul volunteers take book accessibility into consideration when recommending titles. We consider:

  • Purchasable in English In Korea: Many translated titles can’t actually be purchased in English in Korea,
  • Audio Version Available: Many people find audiobooks easier to consume.
  • Online Versions.: International residents can’t afford to travel with many books and many books may not be available in digital form from within Korea.

Commitment to Diverse Lived Experiences

South of Seoul volunteers seek to put lived experiences at the forefront of their recommendation choices. When considering authors we look for such things as:

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  • Korean authors writing about their lived experiences in Korea.
  • International residents writing about their lived experiences in South Korea.
  • Ethnic Koreans writing about their lived experience in other countries.

Reading about Korean culture from a variety of perspectives may provide readers with a greater understanding of the country and culture.

Commitment to Supporting Mental Health

South of Seoul also includes book recommendations that support the lives and mental health of our community. This means that books may tackle the issues related to living between cultures. This may include topics such as culture shock, language, relationships, and more.

Book Recommendation by Molly Hayden

February’s South of Seoul Book Club recommendation, The Island of the Sea Women, is brought to you by Cultural Liaison and journalist Molly Hayden. Molly has volunteered for South of Seoul since 2022. Ms. Hayden helped launch the South of Seoul book club. See her last book review here: SOS Book Club Pick: The Birth of Korean Cool.

About “The Island of Sea Women”

The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa See, a Chinese American Author, is a harrowing fictitious tale steeped in historical relevancy. Set in Jeju, it follows the culture and matriarchal society of haenyeo – female divers who harvest sea life by hand. The timeline weaves through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and ‘40s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, its aftermath, and into the present day. The story beautifully narrates the evolution of the haenyeo but also looks to the growth of the island itself, the generational trauma passed down, and the locals’ attempts to hang on to a legacy.” Molly Hayden

About Haenyeo

Haenyeo (also spelled “haenyo” or “hanyeo”) are female divers from the island of Jeju in South Korea. They traditionally dive into the ocean to collect seafood, such as abalone, sea urchins, and octopus, without using breathing apparatus. They are known for their strength and endurance, and the profession has been passed down through generations of women.

Haenyeo played a significant role in the economy and culture of Jeju and was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. However, the number of haenyeo has been declining in recent years due to aging, a lack of interest among young people, and changes in the seafood industry. Efforts are being made to preserve and promote the tradition of haenyeo, including through government support and tourism.

More Commentary and Reviews

For more on The Island of Sea Women: A Novel read the New York Times review Lisa See Sets a Coming-of-Age Story in the Tumultuous Seas of Occupied Korea.

Online Purchasing Link

You can purchase The Island of Sea Women: A Novel in English on Amazon or on Coupang.

Find More Book Club Recommendations

Did you like this recommendation? Be sure to explore our other volunteer-recommended books.