It’s starting to cool down here in North Carolina. September has brought a comfortable chill to the air, and the breeze is hinting at even cooler weather to come. With the weather changing, I’m looking forward to more time spent curled up with a book. My TBR stack is huge and continues to grow as the weeks pass. (How’s yours looking?)
Everytime I finish a book, it’s a satisfying experience. I love crossing that book off my list and getting to choose another one. But when I finish a book that I really loved, of course, it’s even better. I came within about 100 pages of the end of The Island of Sea Women a few nights ago, and I just couldn’t put it down until I finished it. I stayed up later than I should have, but it was worth it.
This book had everything I love to see in a work of historical fiction. It brought to life the experiences of people far removed from me in time and geography, and it didn’t hold back in revealing even the most mundane details about their lives. The characters felt like they truly could have existed and their experiences seemed authentic. The book was informative and incredibly well-researched, so I also came away from it feeling like I had learned something about a culture unfamiliar to me.
The story is focused around the friendship of Young-sook and Mi-ja, two women who became childhood friends after Mi-ja was caught stealing sweet potatoes from Young-sook’s family’s garden. Young-sook and Mi-ja grow up on Jeju, an island of Korea. Their friendship develops into something pure and seemingly unbreakable as they both train to be Haenyeo, women sea divers who provide the main source of income for their families. They dream of raising children with their husbands and spending much of their lives together under the water as they become efficient and respected Haenyeo.
Tragedy befalls their island as the world around them enters World War II, and Korea is later split by it’s occupiers into two separate nations. Koreans turn on other Koreans, and Young-sook’s and Mi-ja’s friendship isn’t immune to the division that exists on their island. As their married lives take them down very different paths, Young-sook begins to feel that maybe she doesn’t really know Mi-ja, and she begins to distrust her loyalties. This growing dissension culminates in one tragic event when Mi-ja refuses to help Young-sook and her family out of dangerous situation. Young-sook feels that she has suffered the ultimate betrayal and refuses to associate with Mi-ja ever again.
Eventually Mi-ja’s life takes her away from Korea and to the United States. Despite the distance between them, Young-sook continues to think of her lost friend often, holding on to her anger as a way of keeping Mi-ja close. Many years later, their lives become entertwined again, and Young-sook is forced to face her memories of the past head on.
The story is told from two perspectives and switches back and forth throughout. Most of the story is told from Young-sook’s first person perspective as she grows up with Mi-ja and then grows older. The remainder of the story is told from the third person when Young-sook has reached old age and is unexpectedly approached by members of Mi-ja’s family who are visiting from the United States. The story comes together beautifully at the end as Young-sook discovers things about Mi-ja that she never knew and has to decide if she is ready to let go of her anger and forgive her forever friend.
I highly recommend this book. It was a 5/5 star read for me. I featured it in my new blog series, Complementary Mondays, as I’ve recently read a memoir of a North Korean defector that I found paired really well with The Island of Sea Women. Check it out here!
What books have you read recently that you absolutely loved? I’d love to check out your 5 star reads. Leave a comment below!
And as always, thanks for reading!