The B&N Podcast: Lisa See’s Tale of a Vanishing World

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Our guest this week is the bestselling novelist Lisa See, whose works include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and the classic memoir On Gold Mountain— works that cross oceans and eons to tell the stories of female friendships and family bonds.  Set on a small island off the coast of Korea, See’s new novel The Island of Sea Women is the latest selection of the Barnes & Noble Book ClubIn its pages, See follows the lives of two young women through the Japanese occupation, two wars, and the arrival of the dramatic changes of the modern era.  Like all of her books, it’s tailor-made to spark conversation, and so we were delighted to have Lisa See on the podcast to talk with Miwa Messer about the inspiration behind The Island of Sea Women.


Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

This B&N Exclusive Edition is signed by Lisa See and includes a personal essay from her, as well as a discussion guide.

Explore more books by Lisa See.

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Author photo of Lisa See (c) Patricia Williams.