The Island of Sea Women: A Novel. Lisa Scribner. Scribner. Published in 2019; pb. 384 pp.; ISBN #: 9781501154850.
Two friends spend their lives loving and hating each other, being haunted by the mistakes affecting them and their haenyeo community. They are women divers who have learned to dive without the use of diving masks, oxygen or any other supportive equipment. They rely on learning to breathe in vital air and breathe out the song of sumbisori, air let out with a unique sound for each woman.
They live on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea, a land they believe was created by the Shaman Goddesses, creating a land of lava rocks, cones and walls. The residents have created a matriarchal society loved by each resident. Their story is a celebration of life!
Young-Sook has tremendous respect for her mother who is Chief of the haenyeo in one of the local communities until she dies in an accident while diving. Another young woman has another accident that changes her life forever. Their work guarantees survival, especially in the troublesome times that soon follow. Jeju Island residents are the subjects of the Japanese Army who have invaded the country and mandated laws of behavior, inflicting death on many for the slightest infraction of rules.
Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. This reputation haunts her for her entire life. Even though Young-Sook’s mother takes her in with kindness and teachers her to be a haenyeo, Young Sook’s grandmother despises her and will never trust her, a belief that will literally become part of Mi-ja’s choices during one of the most tragic, devastating moments of the story. Young Sook marries the love of her life but Mi-ja marries a man who is evil personified, an act none will understand until it is too late and after too much betrayal and damage. An uprising called the 4.3 incident instigates the death of thousands. The deaths to three members of Young-Sook’s family are tragically depicted, all because of Mi-ja’s response to a request begged by her best friend.
The love between these two women will stay strong, although readers will for a time doubt the primitive and passionate aspects of that love. Scientists and sociologists will make this community a subject of lengthy study and amazed respect! It is the children of these women who will clarify truth for them and the readers. These pages commemorate a truly unique and amazing story that readers will never forget! This is astonishing historical fiction, a must read for all!