2020 · Alcove Press · Book · Fiction · NetGalley · Review

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

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The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Alcove Press
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 5/5
Amazon, Hive

About The Book

In the aftermath of World War II, Goh Junja is a girl just coming into her own. She is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. Confident she is a woman now, Junja urges her mother to allow her to make the Goh family’s annual trip to Mt. Halla, where they trade abalone and other sea delicacies for pork. Junja, a sea village girl, has never been to the mountains, where it smells like mushrooms and earth, and it is there she falls in love with a mountain boy Yang Suwol, who rescues her after a particularly harrowing journey. But when Junja returns one day later, it is just in time to see her mother take her last breath, beaten by the waves during a dive she was taking in Junja’s place.
Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father, Suwol is gone, the ghost of her mother haunts their home–from the meticulously tended herb garden that has now begun to sprout weeds, to the field where their bed sheets are beaten. She has only her grandmother and herself. But the world moves on without Junja.
The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan’s forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops, and her grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea’s occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. When Suwol is arrested for working with and harboring communists, and the perils of post-WWII overtake her homelands, Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she’s ever known.

My Thoughts

I have so many feelings after reading this book that I think it will not be easy to write a clear review. Don’t get me wrong, the story is amazing and intense, but so vivid that it makes you wonder what type of world we are creating for our children, full of monsters and pain. Why?
I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Korea’s past, it had always been for me a country too far to study at school or to feel related to their history. This has changed for the last few months, it’s a country that has fought for their freedom again and again, with multiple loses and pain, but has survived. This book tries to make the reader more interested in a country we don’t know much, but that we all should value and respect, they have gained it.
This is the story of a Haenyŏ, a mermaid from Jeju, how she left the country she loved to survive a war and never returned. Yes, this is not a happy book, but it is in a special way; it’s about family, love, war and survival. All of these elements are so skilfully combined in the story that is difficult to talk about one without relating it to the others.
Don’t be scared to read something that will make change your feelings/emotions toward the world, sometimes is the best way to change everything; between real facts, legends and love this is the book that will possibly change your life. Ready?

About The Author

Sumi Hahn was born in Korea and immigrated to the United States when she was a year old. A former English teacher, she got her Bachelor’s in English literature from Harvard University and her Master’s from UC Berkeley. She was a columnist for the Times Picayune in New Orleans and has written on food and music for various publications in Seattle. Sumi and her family now live in New Zealand but divide their time between Korea and New Zealand. The Mermaid from Jeju is her first novel.

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