Review by Catherine Stricklan
A year ago this month, I started a Zoom book group with friends as a way for the six of us to connect remotely during the pandemic. While we always begin by talking about our club book, I’ve learned that this group also gives the best book recommendations – so good, in fact, that I immediately place the recommendation on hold at the library, without bothering to read the synopsis. As you can imagine, this often leads to pleasant surprises when I finally sit down to reading! The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See is one of these books. When I began the audiobook, the only tidbit I remembered from my friends is that the story followed a matriarchal society in Korea. Strong women? I’m down! However, this book is far more than that. A historical fiction novel, The Island of Sea Women follows two friends working in their island’s all-female diving collective on the island of Jeju, off the coast of Korea. The novel spans the time from the 1930s to the present, beginning during a time of Japanese colonialism, and follows the friends during decades of political and personal upheaval. I love historical fiction because it has the power to marry historical facts and highlights with raw, relatable human stories, and this book did exactly that. The focal friendship felt real and compelling, and the author layered the narrative over the decades and historical context with ease. Come for the matriarchal society, stay for the fascinating facts about gear-free diving, and a stunning portrait of an intimate and complex friendship!