Archive for the ‘Lisa See’ Tag

The Depth of Friendship   Leave a comment

I’m drawn to novels about women’s friendships: the premise of The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See and I was not disappointed.

Set on the Korean Island of Jeju, the author provides an in-depth look at Korean culture involving female sea divers, an ever-changing political climate and the bonds of friendship that beautifully flourish before painfully disintegrating.

The elderly Young-sook narrates this captivating story of her friendship with Mi-ja. They are different in their experiences and backgrounds. Young-sook’s lineage boasts the respected sea women, divers who carefully harvest from the ocean for their livelihood. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. They learn to dive together; they share secrets, joys and losses.

As they grow-up their island undergoes numerous political changes beginning with Japanese colonialism to World War II then the Korean War. Poverty is a way of life for the villagers, but the sea women find solace beneath the water’s surface. Through vivid descriptions, See recreates the rural lifestyle of the islanders and the heartbreak they endure in war.

When marriages are arranged for Mi-Ja and Young-sook, they wonder how they’ll survive being apart from one another. Facing the harsh influences of the outside world, their friendship falters until rendered irreparable.

The progression of time is marked through the different regimes, cell phones and indoor plumbing.

Among the novel’s many beauties are the memory of the rich friendship, the presence of Mi-ja’s great granddaughter and, finally, the reader’s awareness of a single perspective being shared.

The Island of Sea Women
Four-and-a-half bookmarks
Scribner, 2019
374 pages

Amy Tan’s Tome   Leave a comment

The Valley of Amazement

At nearly 600 pages, Amy Tan’s recent novel, The Valley of Amazement, is not just long-awaited, it’s just long. Very long.

It’s the exhaustive story of Chinese courtesans, mothers, daughters, unattainable love, and mistakes repeated from one generation to the next. And, it’s so dang long. Tan clearly did her research to impart so much about the life of a courtesan. The trouble is that other authors have written on this topic much more succinctly. Lisa See comes to mind.

Two thirds of the work is told from Violet’s perspective, which begins when she is seven years old growing up in a Shanghai courtesan house run by her mother, Lucia, an American. Violet is initially unaware that her father, whom she has never met, is Chinese. At 14, Violet is sold to become a courtesan herself when her mother sets sail, unwittingly without her daughter, for San Francisco. Thus begins the lengthy downward spiral Violet endures as things go from worse to worse, interspersed with moments of rare happiness or brief tolerance to her life’s harsh realities. Much of what Violet endures is predictable.

The book’s final third provides Lucia’s view. By comparison, the brevity, although a relief, is puzzling. Yes, Violet is the focus, but this is a narrative about mother-daughter relationships. Even with Tan’s excessive details, Violet is an intriguing character as are several others. After spending so much time with them, they do find their way into our hearts; it just could have been sooner rather than later.

The Valley of Amazement

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks

Ecco/HarperCollins, 2013

589 pages