OCOB 2020 Discussion Questions

  • Cover of Lisa See's 'The Island of Sea Women' showing Asian women dressed for sea diving

OCOB book discussion questions

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

1) While the haenyeo held a certain amount of power in their society, how did they remain powerless in terms of gender equality and what did you think about this? Did it surprise you? How did things change over time?

2) Why do you think See starts off the novel in 3rd person (present day) and then shifts to first, having us get background from just one of the two friends whose lives were entwined?  Does this story structure work well?

3) In what way do the rubbings collected by the young friends bind them to each other?  Were you surprised when Young-sook’s daughter asked for them?

4) See’s story stresses forgiveness.  Do you think forgiveness is important and necessary on both personal and societal levels?  What do you think is forgivable and what not?

5) How well did you think See blended the story of Young-sook and Mi-ja’s friendship with information about the haenyeo, the Japanese occupation of Japan, WWII, and the 4.3 incident? 

6) Mid-way through the book, Young-sook says, “I understood the sea to be dangerous, but what was happening on dry land confused and scared me …. Those who had been killed or injured were all Korean…” How does her insight resonate today?

7) Many traditional sayings are used by the women to explain life including Fall down eight times, stand up nine. What were your favorites? What did they tell you about the women’s character?

8) Does modernization always bring good changes to Jeju?  What traditions do you think need replacing, and which not?

9) Why did Clara’s mother have her daughter keep approaching Young-sook after she showed her the photograph mentioned in the first chapter?  Why did she stop approaching Young-sook herself? 

10) Do you think the book should be referred to as women’s fiction, as See’s books often are?  What are its broader appeals?  Is gender labeling of fiction detrimental to how it’s perceived? 

Bonus question:

11)  If you have read other works by See, how do they compare to The Island of the Sea Women?  What is it about her works, do you think, that appeals to you and other readers?

For more questions and information about the book, Jeju, and the haenyeo,
please see Lisa See’s website