My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The women called Haenyeos and the lifelong affiliation between two among them, Mi-Ja and Young-Sook is what this novel is about. However, the island and its proximity to the sea affects all that they do so much so that their story could not have taken place anywhere else.
Jeju island’s impact strays further than its Korean coastal water ways. Rulers with imperialistic ambitions have historically exploited it as a strategic resource. The Mongols used it as a launching pad to invade Japan. Japan occupied it as a base for bombing raids on China at the story’s beginning. America and allies then use it as a steppingstone to conquer the Pacific theatre in World War II. Finally, South Korea took over for its fight against the communist north.
The Haenyeos, a distinct culture of female bread winners took off from island shores to dive and hunt for their wages. They entered the waters under all climatic conditions warm, cold or windy. They even dived during pregnancy with its accompanying morning sickness. Also, danger lied in sharks being attracted to the smell of blood regardless of reason or season. Then they would carry their haul back to shore. To me this puts loading trucks at U.P.S. for a season into perspective.
The Haenyeo way of life was hard but rewarding. Still, all the occupying visitors made their presence felt. Mi-Ja and Young-Sook the bfffs (best female friends forever) and their fellow sea workers couldn’t escape the effects of JeJu’s frequent and unwelcome guest. And neither could their friendship.
Young-Sook narrates for most of the story. It is here that we learn how the acts of foreign foes altered the alliance between them. For this is at heart a story of friendship began as youth that strayed and frayed because their island home was no safer from the interference of people from afar than it was the tsunamis and typhoons that stirred the sea around it.
I would’ve liked a glossary for some of its terms. However, this was written well enough that I eventually understood meanings based on the context in which the words were presented. This fictional friendship cast a light upon the human suffering caused by the nonfictional history. I began thinking of this story as “James Gang” material meaning that it was special. I ended reading this and have determined this is a “Hall of James” classic. *
* A "James Gang" is an exceptional read that will get 4 stars in lieu of 41/2 stars not being available.
"Hall of James" worthy is a classic. I've gotten to the point where I can spot classic upon first reading