Watch as Lisa See shares the stories behind ‘The Island of Sea Women’


Los Angeles novelist Lisa See joined the L.A. Times Book Club to share the stories behind her bestselling novel, “The Island of Sea Women.”

See was in conversation with Times columnist Mary McNamara in a virtual event live streaming on YouTube.

Los Angeles novelist Lisa See joined the L.A. Times Book Club Jan. 25
Los Angeles novelist Lisa See with Times columnist Mary McNamara and Book Club Editor Donna Wares.
(Los Angeles Times)

In an interview, See says she was inspired to write the book when she spied a magazine piece about the haenyeo, a subculture of free divers on the Korean island of Jeju. The women are legendary for venturing into the ocean depths without breathing equipment to search for shellfish and other seafood.

“It was just one paragraph and a small photo,” See recalls. “But I just ripped that out of the magazine and brought it home with me. I knew that one day I would write about them.”

That germ of an idea a decade ago led to “The Island of Sea Women,” a deeply researched story of friendship, tragedy and forgiveness that spans eight decades.

Haenyeo divers on South Korea's southern island of Jeju in 2015.
Haenyeo divers on South Korea’s southern island of Jeju in 2015.
(Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

In advance of the book club visit, See shared her favorite books and pandemic diversions. Here’s what’s on her mind:

What’s kept you sane since March? Walking and Netflix.

What’s on your nightstand?Interior Chinatown”


What’s your favorite historical novel? “Circe”

What book do you most enjoy rereading? “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner

Who are your favorite L.A. writers? My mom (Carolyn See), of course, but also Nina Revoyr, Lynell George, Steph Cha, Michael Connelly, James M. Cain, John Fante, Raymond Chandler.

What’s your favorite childhood book? “Ameliaranne and the Magic Ring” by Eleanor Farjeon.

What’s your must-watch TV show? “Money Heist,” desperately waiting for the next season. Also, and I was very late to the party, “Schitt’s Creek.”

Name your favorite music right now: Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get a story? Eat pig penis

What’s something surprising you’ve discovered in quarantine? I’ve been listening to my first podcast. It’s called “Rereading the Stone,” and it takes us chapter by chapter through the classic Chinese novel called “The Story of the Stone” (also known at “The Dream of the Red Chamber”).

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