Atlas Obscura Book Club: The Island of Sea Women, Discussion 3

Welcome to the final discussion of the Atlas Obscura Book Club Volume 2!

Today’s thread will be our final discussion of The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. We’ll be discussing everything from the chapter “Life-Giving Air” up through the end of the book, and sharing our final thoughts and feelings.

(Image: Ayn tran/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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And with that, let’s discuss the harrowing and emotional end of The Island of Sea Women. Whew, what a gut punch. Before we get into it, here’s some additional materials to check out:

General thoughts and observations as the novel as a whole? The Island of Sea Women is sad, defiant, and moving throughout, but which part sticks with you the most?

The novel’s underlying focus is on forgiveness. Who deserves it? What does it take to give and receive it? All of these questions and more. At the risk of getting too heavy, what was the most impactful takeaway about forgiveness that you took from the novel?

Mi-ja’s letters ended up filling in the details about their relationship that Young-sook either could not or would not know. Have you ever had an incredibly meaningful correspondence with someone, or a life-changing pen pal?

In the end, Jeju Island, it’s history and culture, acted as the body that Young-sook and Mi-ja orbited around their whole lives, the shared location that connected them over the years, even as they were torn apart. Is there a place in your life that has acted as the epicenter of some lifelong relationships?

The recurring theme of forgiveness and the need to view from the other perspective stood out for me. It is so very easy to misunderstand, either inadvertently or willfully, if one comes to see only from one’s point of view. We can never know fully what the totality of another person is, whether in thoughts or intentions. It is incredibly hard to go beyond one’s feelings of hurt and betrayal, to set aside emotions and see things objectively and sometimes, as is in the case of Young-sook and Mi-ja, the forgiveness comes too late for reconciliation.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

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I met my friend, a female Mountie, over 12 years ago at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that featured Alberta. We’ve sent each other postcards from wherever we may be travelling and even though we’ve not been together in person since then, we’ve kept up with each other’s lives. There is a different sense of loyalty to our friendship, a dedication that is hard to find in lots of other friendships/acquaintances. My home is open to her and I will forever treasure her friendship.

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I can honestly say the libraries and bookstores I’ve spent so much time in, weirdly enough.

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This book was pretty great. I usually read genre fiction, so this was out of my usual wheelhouse. I was a Geography Major in college but for some reason had never heard of Jeju and I regularly checked the internet while reading to see how much of this novel was true to life. I was kind of amazed that there was this whole, real life history that I had never heard of. Frankly, this is the whole reason I love Atlas Obscura.

I think what will stick with me the most is the way the community slowly broke apart as things changed with the various occupations. And, of course, the tragedy in the book, so vivid and so deeply felt, will stick with me for a long time.

I can’t wait for the next Book Club Selection!

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I think it is pretty clear how important it is to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. If we do not understand other people, we may not be able to really forgive someone. The only way to really do that is to try to understand why someone behaves the way they do.

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Yes! Getting outside of ourselves is so difficult but so rewarding. I think the mantra I tell myself most often is, It’s Not About You.

I’m so glad you liked the book! As a genre reader myself, this was a bit of a departure for me too. The history of Jeju was not something I was familiar with, and while tragic, it was an incredible experience to learn about.

The Atlas Book Club is going to take a break for the time being for a handful of reasons, but I hope you’ll to continue to be a part of the community on the forums, @tbojangles! Now, back to my 900-page fantasy brick…

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@EricGrundhauser Well, the break is disappointing, but I can understand based on the lack of participation. I hope it comes back at some point! I guess I may have to join some other book club to tide me over in the meantime. Hopefully you are back soon and I will continue to enjoy all of the Atlas Obscura content!


So sorry to hear about the book club ending. I was looking forward to the next selection! I got a little behind in the reading of this one because of my work schedule but followed the threads and was planning to post more. I would really like to read some more travel- focused environmental non-fiction, such as “Last Chance”. Or something related to the odd places that Atlas Obscura has discovered. I think this might bring more participants. Please consider a third book before stopping. Having said that, I am very grateful that you chose this book. I knew nothing about Jeju or the haenyeo and can’t thank you enough for introducing me. Even though the book was tragic and sometimes difficult to read (emotionally) I would not have missed it. One thing that struck me was how environmentally sound the old ways can be when practiced on a small scale. The latrine system was elegant in its simplicity. It shows what happens when people really understand nature and work with it. Not to mention the efforts to prevent over harvesting in the sea. Such a great book. Thank you again.