Book Club: Lisa See’s stories of resilience take on new meaning

Author Lisa See
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

In her latest bestseller, Lisa See brings to life the fascinating but little-known story of the legendary women divers of the Korean island of Jeju.

When the historical novel was published, many readers focused on the endurance and physical daring of the women in an unforgiving environment where a momentary mistake can lead to death.

But See says “The Island of Sea Women” has taken on a different meaning in a year of pandemic and political upheaval. The focus now is on the psychological resilience, courage and persistence the women needed to survive in a tumultuous era that included the 1930s Japanese occupation, World War II and violent repression by South Korea’s government.


“The people on the island of Jeju, and in Korea in general, really went through just a lot,” See says in a new interview. “We’re so lucky as a country that in our lifetimes we’ve never had a war on our soil. But now, with the pandemic, we’re living in a moment of uncertainty too.”

See joins the L.A. Times Book Club on Jan. 25 to discuss her work with Times culture columnist Mary McNamara. The free event will be livestreamed on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter at 7 p.m. PST. Sign up here.

The daughter of author Carolyn See, Lisa See arrived on the literary scene in 1995 with “On Gold Mountain,” a nonfiction account of the Chinese immigrant side of her family. Since then, she has written a series of historical novels including “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane,” “Shanghai Girls” and “Dreams of Joy.”

Lisa See notes that historical fiction offers readers an opportunity to escape from their real-life troubles and immerse themselves in unfamiliar worlds. “When none of us can travel, there’s something pretty nice about reading a book that takes place in another country. Or has a different culture from what you have within the four walls of your house,” she says.

Author Lisa See
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Mystery class

Two days after our event with See, The Times will host a Jan. 27 class to help aspiring writers start working on their own novel for the new year.

In the latest installment of the We Can Teach You That expert series, Southern California novelist Joe Ide will show you how to write and sell a mystery novel.

Ide is the author of the IQ detective series and joined book club readers last March for an evening of L.A. noir with novelist Steph Cha and Times reporter Maria La Ganga.

In this new class, Ide will talk about his approach to storytelling, how to build action scenes and how to create dynamic characters and sharp dialogue. He will delve into the logistics of getting published and answer questions during the webinar, too.


The webinar starts at 6 p.m. Jan. 27. Sign up here.

Author Joe Ide
Author Joe Ide in the South Central neighborhood where he grew up.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Keep reading

Tom Hanks and Ann Patchett: Enjoy this must-read Harper’s story about the actor’s unexpected collaboration with the author turned bookstore owner.

Hawley’s book plans canceled: Simon & Schuster this week dropped plans to publish a book by Sen. Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican who led an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election. Hawley responded, “We’ll see you in court!”

Stacey Abrams’ new thriller: With Democratic victories in the two Georgia runoffs behind her, the voting-rights leader has another major date on the horizon: Her latest novel, “While Justice Sleeps,” is due May 11.

A new short story: L.A. novelist and recent National Book Award winner Charles Yu imagines life 1,000 years in the future in a new story, “The Only Living Girl on Earth.” Entertainment Weekly shares an excerpt.


The best places to go in 2021: Frommer’s invited celebrated authors to share essays about their America.

The last word: “We are pattern makers, and if our patterns are beautiful and full of grace, they will be able to bring a person for whom the world has become broken and disorganized up off his knees and back to life,” said author and world traveler Barry Lopez, quoted in Pam Houston‘s appreciation. Lopez died on Christmas Day at 75.