The 2020 One Maryland One Book Author Tour

Amira Cooper

Marquet A. Johnson

On Tuesday, September 6, the 2020 One Maryland One Book Author Tour featured Lisa See and her book, “The Island of Sea Woman.” This annual event, set up by Maryland Humanities and the Howard County Library System (HCLS), discussed See’s memorable but complex book and related it to the concept of humanities and Jeju culture.

One Maryland One Book is Maryland’s largest reading and discussion program. It was created by Maryland Humanities whose goal is “to bring together diverse people in communities across the state through the shared experience of reading the same book,” Andrea Lewis, the Maryland Humanities Program Officer, explained at the event.

The book that brought everyone together this year, “The Island of Sea Women,” depicts “the story of the complex and decades-long friendship between Young-sook and Mi-ja, two women living on the Korean island of Jeju,” HCLS reports.

Although Lisa See’s visit was virtual, she did not shy away from discussing her book with the presenter, Laura Yoo. Yoo is an English professor at Howard Community College and a board member of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society.

See explained how she ventured to the Koren island of Jeju and interviewed the inhabitants to gain accurate information for her book. She described it as “beautiful, but volcanic… [Jeju] has a tropical appearance and atmosphere.”

See interviewed and sought out researchers, academics, and shamans, especially the top woman shaman. However, the main people she focused on were the women divers, the retired women, and the women who swam as a collective of the Haenyeo community. These interviews were intense, lasting for about two to four hours.

She specifically studied their lifestyles including their habits, behaviors, daily tasks, choices of appearances, and even some of their conversations. The Haenyeo community on Jeju was mostly matriarchial– the husbands are the helpers and the ones who stayed home, while the women do the heavy work and are the breadwinners in the household.

Along with its matriarchial tendencies, the Haenyeo community was eco-friendly, spiritually connected, and extremely community-involved, especially with its diving and fishing practices. See admired this fact as she continued her interviews and studies.

On top of all of these things, See mainly wanted her book to be about forgiveness. The women of the Haenyeo community on Jeju have experienced much turmoil. Her characters face wars, betrayals, inner battles, and more– much like the women on Jeju. She wanted to display how forgiveness is the key to allowing those burdens to crumble.

See learned a lot from the women on Jeju and their Haenyeo culture, expanding on that when discussing the battles that her characters, two sisters on two sides of the world, faced.

Due to COVID-19, the event was held as a webinar, which was a good format for See’s presentation. With only three speakers and a single PowerPoint presentation, See was able to display pictures of Jeju, discuss the main points of her journey, and talk about what ideals of humanities she applied to her book and to her personal life. See was also able to answer questions that were asked by the participants at the end of the event.

This event only lasted an hour, but the concepts that See discussed are unforgettable. “We know what an apology means. Whether, it’s really something small or something big, as nations and as people, we need it. It’s part of how we move forward–it’s connected to forgiveness,” See remarks. “Forgiveness can lead to the preservation of our lives and our memories.”