The narrative is structured to go back and forth in time, from relative present (2008) as the main character (Young-sook) is elderly, and the past of her youth and young womanhood in Korea. As we put together the pieces of the story, we learn so much about the haenyo (women free divers) of Jeju Island in Korea. They are impressive in their ability to dive to depths to hunt for valuable food stuff, like abalone, fish, octopus. Not only that, they were hired out to even colder areas, such as to Russia, to work.
Within that context, there is this mystery. Young-sook has a best friend, and we know from the opening in the present that she is refusing to acknowledge that she knows this woman named Mija. We see in the past that they were close friends, and we wonder what happened. We know and anticipate that finding out will be the climax of the book.
We follow the story of these two friends as they become women first under imperial Japanese rule, then being in the midst of horror with the Korean government itself, who would not tolerate dissident voices. We learn about a horrible massacre of Jeju residents by their own people, which was only recently brought to light. When I read this, I had to look it up to see if it was historically based. And it was.
This was a compelling book,