Our March/April 2020 Book Club Pick is The Island of Sea Women, by New York Times bestselling author Lisa See. Few books can be called upon to so beautifully span decades and to delicately detail the relationship between two women who are inextricably linked. Lisa See provides us wiith a glimpse into the inspiration behind her latest novel below.
What made you want to write about haenyeo, Korean sea divers?
In many ways I feel that the haenyeo called to me. I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room, leafing through magazines, when I came across a tiny article—just one paragraph and one small photo—about these remarkable women. I ripped it out of the magazine and took it home. I hung onto the article for eight years before I decided that now was the time to write about the haenyeo. They have a matrifocal society—a society focused on women. Historically, they were known to have the greatest ability of any human group on earth to withstand cold water. They hold their breath for two minutes and dive down sixty feet (deep enough to get the bends) to harvest seafood. They are the breadwinners in their families, while their husbands take care the children and do the cooking. In the past, women would retire at age fifty-five. Today, the youngest haenyeo is fifty-five. I was and am amazed by their bravery and persistence, as well as the camaraderie—sisterhood—that they share with each other. About five years ago, UNESCO gave the haenyeo the designation of an Intangible World Heritage Tradition and estimated the culture would be gone in about fifteen years. I felt I couldn’t wait five, ten, or fifteen years to interview women who were in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Continue reading