It is May! Dude, parents, I KNOW it’s a rough go, but…the end is in sight, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love all things summer, especially kicking back with a delicious read. And friends, if you haven’t made your summer reading list yet, you’re going to want to make sure this is on it. Read on for the scoop in this The Island of Sea Women Book Club Discussion.
The Island of Sea Women Book Club Discussion
See’s newest, The Island of Sea Women, did not disappoint. While the story itself and its characters were perhaps among my least favorite of her work, I was FASCINATED by the setting and culture. It’s been about a month since I read the book, and my mind is still buzzing over the world See introduced us to in this book. What is it that makes The Island of Sea Women so captivating? Let’s unpack it a bit.
- Were you familiar with a matrifocal society before reading this book? What are your thoughts about living within such a culture.
I had never heard of a matrifocal society before, and my mind was blown! It was so very different than my own culture and any other culture I’ve ever studied. I think what most bent my mind was that while women had the role of the breadwinner and all physical labor, they were also tasked with the traditional care of child and home (except for the nightly dinner and daytime childcare). In essence, they carried the roles of both men and women in many other societies.
- Discuss the incongruent balance of power between men and women within this society.
It was so hard to wrap my head around the fact that while women were well acknowledged as the stronger sex, emotionally and physically, men still retained power via land ownership and having the women marry into their families. The women also used their earnings to put their sons and brothers through school, though many men did not work at all and it was rare that women went to school.
- What role did modernization play within the novel? Both in relation to cultural norms and physical changes.
It was interesting that both physical modernization (indoor plumbing, electricity, wetsuits) was almost as challenging to the older generation as were social changes (women going to school, men seeking employment). Partially, this may have been due to the society’s full dependence upon the land and sea for their survival. Their relationship to physical elements was very strong (I think of the triadic dependency of people, pigs, and fields).
- How did female relationships define the story and culture?
In this matrifocal society, the relationships of women were everything. Grandmother and mothers passed legacies onto their daughters. Daughters were a blessing of wealth for the income they could provide. And friendships went beyond school girl pals; these women depended upon each other to keep safe at sea.
- Death was a tremendous part of this story. How was it viewed/valued/feared?
It astounded me how much death was a part of everyday life. Women died at sea. Children died of sickness. When the Jeju men were recruited into the war, they would go missing regularly, never to be heard from again. The weight of this death carried was, at least on a surface level, far less than what we in our culture experience today. Perhaps because death was so common and frequent, it was taken more in stride?
- What do you think this society looks like today? What is the balance of power? Role of the haenyeo?
See shares several glances at present life on Jeju (now I want to go there!). The haenyeo were and are very real (look it up!). I think modern conveniences have probably largely replaced their work, as has the general shift towards a more balanced society (in terms of gender and severe physical labor). Beyond this assumption and gleaning the glimpses See shared with us, I am still very curious and now eager to read up on this culture.
- If you have read others of See’s books, how did this one compare? What similarities and differences were there?
I love that Lisa See always introduces us to another world: another time, another place. She has again shared an up-close encounter with an Asian culture carried through generations, and once again, I have learned a piece of history I’d otherwise not have met.
The Island of Sea Women felt a bit different than her other tales in the characters somehow felt less personally revealed, but perhaps that was my own perspective. Regardless, See replicated her powerful formula of a book that will long stay with you.
Now onto May’s book club pick, The Expats by Chris Pavone. This one looks juicy, friends! Leave a comment on this blog post before 5/10/19 at 5:30am EST, and as long as you are 18 or older and live in the continental United States, you are eligible to win the copy we are giving away for free.
The Expats by Chris Pavone
Can we ever escape our secrets?
In the cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg, Kate Moore’s days are filled with playdates and coffee mornings, her weekends spent in Paris and skiing in the Alps. But Kate is also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret—one that’s become so unbearable that it begins to unravel her newly established expat life. She suspects that another American couple are not who they claim to be; her husband is acting suspiciously; and as she travels around Europe, she finds herself looking over her shoulder, increasingly terrified that her own past is catching up with her. As Kate begins to dig, to uncover the secrets of the people around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage, and her life.
Stylish and sophisticated, fiercely intelligent, and expertly crafted, The Expats proves Chris Pavone to be a writer of tremendous talent.
Thanks for joining us for The Island of Sea Women Book Club Discussion always for reading with us. Carrie of Normal Level of Crazy and I LOVE doing this online book club with you and hearing your thoughts. Go on and fight the good fight of May and we’ll see you on the other side in summer!!!