Book Review | Island of Sea Women
5 Star: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

As I sit to write a book review for Island of Sea Women by Lisa See, I am looking for words that will sum up my complex thoughts on this book. I know I can’t do justice to the depth and scope of See’s writing in order to give it the acclaim it deserves. I will try, so that you will be decide to read it for yourself. The Island of the Sea Women is 100% worth a full 5 star rating, but it needs an asterisk. This book will definitely not be for everyone but please try it!

At first glance, Island of Sea Women is a book about deep female friendships and all they endures over time. This book follows the ins and outs of a pair of friends through childhood, dating, marriage, children, and war. Take a little closer look, however, and this book is a history lesson on a horrifying event called the “4.3 Incident” and the massacre at Bukchon. At full force, Island of the Sea Women is a dissertation on a dying matriarchal society and culture called the haenyeo collective, where women lead and work while the men watch the children and cook.

Island of Sea Women can be a challenging book to read. It is based in a foreign land with foreign language and foreign culture. At times I found myself rereading a sentence or paragraph a few times to fully gather the depth of meaning. Other times I found myself looking up words to get a better understanding of the meaning and how it effects the story. Since I didn’t know much of the political landscape of this time period, I also chose to do additional research to help me. I did not let my own ignorance get in the way of the beauty of See’s writing or the gravity of her story. Never let our own lack of understanding get in the way of connecting with history!

The Island of Sea Women touches on some very difficult subject matter. Politically, historically, and graphically – including rape and other brutalities of war. Most of the story takes place on the small island of Jeju. As political allies shift from Japanese occupation to US control, there are events that I was not aware of. I chose to look them up to try to understand how the US fit in to these events. It is disappointing that these events are not covered in current history classes. It also helps to understand some history of the division of North Korea and South Korea. I would encourage you to read up on the Jeju Uprising BEFORE reading the book. It is appalling not only that these events took place, killing a shockingly large 30,000 people, but that it has never been taught in any history class I have ever taken.

This book is heartbreaking and at times brutal, but it is also necessary. Is is important to take accountability for any part the US has to play. We need to share these stories for the truth to come out. It is necessary to share the burden, to tell the stories, to learn from the past so we can move forward in the future. At the heart of this book is an amazing tale of forgiveness, breakthrough, and forward progress.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: rape, murder, suicide, graphic war descriptions, abuse…it’s all in there folk. If you are at all squeamish this is a tough one. I will say that normally I can’t handle that type of thing but the author does it all very respectfully. The brutal scenes don’t weigh the entire book down. You also can choose to skip those sections if you need to and still feel the depth of this book. 

If you enjoy this review, you can find more of my reviews on my blog. I also post my reviews over at my Goodreads Link. You can even follow along on Instagram at my bookstagram page to find reviews, giveaways, and new releases: Instagram Link

Island of Sea Women book review by Leighellen Landskov
The Island of the Sea Woman book review
Island of the Sea Women studio image

posted in:


  1. Joyce McCall says:

    Thanks for the review. I had never heard of this book. You did a good job of explaining what it is about. It is helpful to understand the various elements and ways to prepare before reading.

    • Thank you, Joyce! If you love historical fiction, this book really does a great job of setting the tone for this time period. My heart (and stomach!) had a really hard time with some of the subject matter, but I’m a total softy! I’m glad I didn’t let it stop me from reading the book. And it does end on a hopeful note!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *