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The Island of Sea Women: Summary

Everything you need to know about Lisa See's The Island of Sea Women, in 1 paragraph.
An illustration of a reader enjoying The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See in a cosy interior
A reader enjoying The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
The Island of Sea Women is a captivating and heart-wrenching story about the strong bond between the women of Jeju Island, South Korea. The islanders are haenyeo, free-diving women who harvest seafood from the ocean. Mi-ja and Young-sook are two haenyeo who have been friends since childhood and share an unbreakable bond. As they come of age, they must choose to either continue their traditions or leave the island and pursue modern opportunities. With Japan's colonization of Korea looming over them, their choices will shape not only their own lives but also the future of their beloved island.

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What is The Island of Sea Women about?

The Island of Sea Women is a novel that tells the story of strong female friendships and the unique traditions of haenyeo, female divers of Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea. The novel follows two long-time friends, Young-sook and Mi-ja, as they navigate their lives as haenyeo and face the changing times brought on by modernization. The book explores themes of friendship, loyalty, identity, and family as Young-sook and Mi-ja struggle to maintain their traditional way of life in a world that is rapidly changing. It also deals with issues such as class divisions, sexism, patriarchal oppression, and environmental degradation. Ultimately, this novel highlights the courage and perseverance of the haenyeo women and celebrates their resilience in the face of adversity.

The Island of Sea Women: Book Club Questions

  1. What do you think is the main theme of the novel?
  2. What were your thoughts on Mi-ja and Young-sook's relationship?
  3. How did the women of Jeju Island maintain their culture and traditions throughout tumultuous times in history?
  4. How did the Haenyeo overcome and adapt to the changing times?
  5. What were some of the underlying messages within the novel?
  6. Do you think that Mi-Ja's story is one of empowerment?
  7. How did the Japanese occupation impact the lives of the people of Jeju Island?
  8. What message does Lisa See attempt to communicate about family and community values?
  9. What events, decisions or characters shaped Mi-Ja's life and outlook on life?
  10. How have Mi-Ja's experiences impacted your own life and understanding of femininity?

What to say about The Island of Sea Women

  • "The Island of Sea Women is an excellent example of historical fiction, taking us on a captivating journey to uncover the secrets and stories of Jeju Island's haenyeo."
  • "The characters in The Island of Sea Women were so vividly written that I felt like I was right there with them."
  • "The themes of family, community, tradition, and female empowerment are so thoughtfully explored in The Island of Sea Women, making it a powerful and inspiring read."
  • "The Island of Sea Women is not only an emotionally moving story, but also a fascinating look into a little-known culture and its history."
  • "I found it remarkable how Lisa See managed to capture the complex emotions and relationships between the generations of haenyeo in The Island of Sea Women."
  • "The vivid descriptions throughout the novel make you feel as if you're walking through Jeju Island during each era described in the book."
  • "The contrast between the traditional haenyeo way of life and modernity made for an interesting read in The Island of Sea Women."
  • "The representation of Jeju Island's matriarchal society was incredibly empowering to read about in The Island of Sea Women."
  • "It was fascinating to see how the characters in The Island of Sea Women evolved throughout their lives and how their beliefs changed over time."
  • "I loved how Lisa See managed to bring her characters to life with such emotion and detail in The Island of Sea Women - it was truly captivating!"

Top 5 Quotes from The Island of Sea Women

  1. "The sea is a mother, not a mistress."
  2. "The women of Jeju have carried on a legacy of thousands of years."
  3. "When the sea is calm, all boats are safe."
  4. "The future of the sea lies in the hands of those who work and love it."
  5. "Women belong to the sea, and the sea belongs to women."

Adaptations of The Island of Sea Women

At this time, there are no known adaptations of The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See.

Other books by Lisa See

  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  • Peony in Love
  • Shanghai Girls
  • Dreams of Joy
  • China Dolls
  • Flower Net
  • On Gold Mountain
  • Dragon Bones
  • Sagas of a Chinese Family

Did you know?


The Island of Sea Women is Lisa See's first novel based on the real-life stories of haenyeo, or female divers, who have been harvesting the oceans off the southern coast of Korea for centuries.