Lisa See’s novel, The Island of the Sea Women, is set on a Korean island and revolves around the centuries long history of the haenyeo, the female divers. These women have created a matrifocal society where they are the breadwinners for their families, engaging in dangerous, physical work, and their husbands take on the dometic duties of cooking the meals and raising the children.
The Island of the Sea Women tells its story through the friendship of Young-sook, the daughter of the head Haenyeo diver, and Mi-ja, the orphaned daughter of a Japanese collaborator. The narrative alternates in time between 2008, when an aging Young-sook tells about her early childhood years, taking the reader back to 1938 with the Japanese occupation of Korea and her depictions of the harsh colonization.
The story culminates with the horrific violence of the 4.3 Incident (named after the date it began, April 3, 1948) three years after Japan surrendered its occupation of Korea, and describes the “Incident’s” impact on Young-Sook’s family and her friendship with Mi-ja.