MM: What do you think makes female friendships so profound, even in the face of adversity and cultural shifts?
LS: I’m drawn to writing about female friendship because it’s unlike any other relationship we have in our lives. We expect our women friends to love us and support us, especially in times of adversity. We share the good, bad and trying parts of our lives with our friends. In fact, we’ll tell a friend something we won’t tell our mothers, our partners or our children. This is a particular kind of intimacy — and it can leave us open to the deepest betrayals.
MM: What drew you to write about Korea’s Jeju Island and the haenyeo?
LS: In many ways I feel that the haenyeo — the diving women of Jeju Island — called to me. I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room, leafing through magazines, and I came across a tiny article, just one paragraph and one small photo, about these remarkable women. I ripped it out and took it home. I hung on to the article for eight years before I decided that now was the time to write about the haenyeo. They have a matrifocal society — a society focused on women. The women hold their breath for two minutes and dive down 60 feet (deep enough to get the bends) to harvest seafood. They are the breadwinners in their families, while their husbands take care of the children and do the cooking. In the past, [the] women would retire at age 55. Today, the youngest haenyeo is 55. I was and am amazed by their bravery and persistence, as well as by the camaraderie and sisterhood that they share with each other. It’s said that in about 15 years, this culture will be gone from the world. I felt compelled to write about them while I still could.
MM: What do you think readers, and just people in general, can learn from the divers your characters are based on?
LS: In the past, in addition to the ordinary day-to-day hardships they faced in their work, they would dive in winter off the coast of Vladivostok. Can you imagine how cold that water must have been? The haenyeo have the greatest ability of all human groups to withstand cold water. Second, the older generation of divers lived through incredibly dark and difficult times: Japanese colonialism, World War II, the Korean War and then the severity and hardships of how the [politics of the] Red Scare played out on Jeju Island. Third, these women work together and live their lives together. They are literally facing life and death every day. Somehow, they are able to do this while maintaining a really good, and wry, sense of humor. We all face adversity in our lives. Sometimes we rise to the occasion and sometimes we fail.
Local Page Turners
by Lisa See (Los Angeles), Scribner, $27
Lisa See’s latest novel is set on a small Korean island where secrets abound. When two girls, best friends, come of age to work with the village’s all-female diving collective, there is plenty of adventure and danger to be found. In a tale spanning decades, See, a New York Times best-selling author, imbues her characters with a rich and riveting life that will keep readers enthralled.
Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera April 9, noon; $55 ticket includes book and lunch.
by Dave Eggers (Mill Valley), Knopf, $25.95
In Dave Eggers’ novel The Parade, the story’s central location remains unnamed — all the reader knows is that 10 years of war has left this land in terrible shape. The story follows two men, at odds in their personalities and philosophies, who have been hired to finish a highway meant to serve as an armistice. Grappling with the complex idea of peace, this latest work from Eggers proves that his wealth of imagination endures unabated.
Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera April 5, 7 p.m.
by Namwali Serpell (San Francisco), Hogarth, $28
When you can’t afford a plane ticket, the next-best option is a good read. Caine Prize winner Namwali Serpell’s sweeping, ambitious tale depicts three families plagued by a curse over the course of generations. Readers might wonder if they’ll need a passport as the story roams from India to Italy to England and the characters’ tangled fates converge in Zambia. There’s also a bit of time travel: Serpell’s novel moves expertly from 1855 to a brilliantly imagined Southern Africa of 2050.
Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera April 9, 7 p.m.
by Allie Larkin (Bay Area), Atria Books, $16.99
When aspiring costume designer Katie gives up everything in a divorce to make sure she and canine companion Barkimedes aren’t separated, she decides to move to Florida to live with her grandmother, Nan. She learns there’s more to Nan then she ever thought to ask about; meanwhile, Katie’s former college flame arrives in town. It’s a great spring read.
Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera April 24, 7 p.m.
Reviews by Book Passage Marketing Manager Zack Ruskin.