What I’m Reading: The Island of Sea Women

From the book jacket:

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.

My review:

The Island of Sea Women is such a captivating and powerful story not only two friends, but women and their relationships as well. especially since it is based around true historical events. The detail that Lisa See goes into is, as always, remarkable and she really captures the horrific events is such a beautiful way.

What I especially liked about this book is the relationship between Young-sook and Mi-ja; to me, their relationship is similar to those that many women have: we’re inseparable but as we get older, our faith in one another is tested in a make-or-break fashion.

In my opinion, Young-sook and Mi-ja’s friendship was flawed. While it seems strong on the outside, Young-sook’s haenyeo upbringing blinded her to Mi-ja’s “Western” struggles as Mi-ja didn’t have the courage to speak up for herself. Still, their story grabbed me and I couldn’t help but want them to resolve their differences.

The Island of Sea Women opened my eyes to a part of Asian history that I had absolutely no knowledge of, and as I mentioned before, Lisa See tells its tale so wonderfully. I heart hurts for those who were impacted by the 4.3 Incident and I’m really interested in learning more about this island’s history overall.

Despite all of the tragedy within the storyline, it still absorbed me completely. I’d definitely recommend it as it introduces such a different lifestyle for women.

My rating: ★★★★½/5

Advertisements

What I’m Reading: American War

From the book jacket:

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war as one of the Miraculous Generation and now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past—his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

My review:

I’m pretty sure the last dystopian novel I read was Animal Farm by George Orwell, and that was either in grade 10 or 11 English class. Let me just say that American War is no Animal Farm, with no offence to Orwell. 

American War, written by Egypt-born, Canada-based author Omar El Akkad, is an eye-opening idea of what the future of global politics could very well turn out to be. With everything already on its way to going to hell in a hand basket, El Akkad does an incredible job painting a vivid picture of what the world may very well be like in 50 years from now; climate change and earth’s diminishing resources are something that we are perhaps not taking seriously enough. 

While it may seem like the United States is being “picked on”, it only makes sense as the country is generally viewed as one of the biggest leaders in all things economical. It’s an interesting thing to see what it would be like if it reverted back 100 years and another Civil War broke out. What would be devastation look like? Who would be affected? If race is what drove the last war, what would propel this one? Natural resources seems like an obvious choice.

Two of the three Chestnut children, Sarat and Simon, are examples of how war robs children of their youth. When war is the only thing you seem to know growing up, it is seems only natural to join the fight for one reason or another. The third Chestnut child, Dana, is the sole family member who doesn’t seek out revenge for what has happened to her family, perhaps as an example of preserved innocence.

I tried to dig deep and find something that I didn’t like about American War, and quite frankly, I really enjoyed every bit of it. While a bit dense and containing some slight adult content, I really think it should be a required read for high schoolers. It’s eye-opening and thought-provoking.

My rating: ★★★★★/5

 

What I’m Reading: The Home for Unwanted Girls

From the book jacket:

Philomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit—the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.

In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.

Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.

Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.

My review:

Ahoy, there may be spoilers …

I was drawn to this title based on the Canadian history; I honestly had zero idea of the events that happened in Quebec and was shocked and saddened when I did a little research after I finished reading the book. What a tragic thing for those mothers and children to go through!

That all being said, The Home for Unwanted Girls really captured my attention and I had a hard time putting it down once I got into it. My heart ached for both Maggie and Elodie as they went through life yearning to be reunited with one another. A huge part of me desperately wanted them to be reunited, but part of me was skeptical if that was going to actually happen or not.

The Home for Unwanted Girls is so much more than a story about orphans and reuniting as well. Goodman included just a hint of women’s rights in the story that wasn’t over the top but still makes you see how far we’ve come. (And how far we still have to go.)

I’ll admit that I thought that it was a little long (thus the half-star deduction) and there were a couple of parts I didn’t find to be really necessary, such as the whole thing between Gabriel’s sister and Maggie’s father. I really didn’t think it added much to the story, other than maybe that’s part of the reason why he forbid Maggie from being with Gabriel? Either way, I could’ve done without it.

Still though, it’s a really interesting read that has inspired me to learn more about Quebec’s history. I’ll fully admit I don’t know enough about the province.

My rating: ★★★★½ 5