Pamplin Media Group – Author See Reveling in Great Women

She will appear virtually as part of the Voices Lectures series on Wednesday, February 16.

Lisa See’s latest book, “The Island of the Sea Women,” tells the story of Korean women from Jeju Island who snorkel in seawater for abalone and conch, while let the men stay home and cook dinner.

It’s one of the best examples, she says, of telling stories of women doing amazing things.

“For hundreds of years, women have been freedivers,” she said. “They are deep breathers, dive about 60 feet and can stay on the ground for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.

“There used to be 40,000 divers, now there are 4,000 and most of them are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. If you want to interview people in the late 80s and early 90s , you better get on with it,” she added with a laugh.

In “China Dolls,” she writes about Asian-American nightclub performers of the 1930s and 1940s, a time when not only African Americans faced discrimination in the United States. There was the Chinese Ginger Rogers, as well as their male counterparts making Fred Astaire.

“A lot of them were in their early 80s and 90s, and we went out and found them,” See said.

“Snow Flower and the Secret Fans” is about people living in a remote region of China where women invented and used their own language for 1,000 years.

The range of topics that New York Times bestseller See, a longtime Los Angeles resident, has written about will be part of her virtual Voices Lectures series appearance at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16.

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“I write about women but I try to find stories of women who have been lost, forgotten or perhaps hidden away,” she said.

“What ties these stories together – not just trying to bring out what really impressive women have done – is looking at their physical strength, their stamina and their perseverance, but also their psychological strength, their stamina, their perseverance. Not that the men do not have these traits.”

In “The Island of the Women of the Sea”, See writes about the evolution of Jeju from becoming a major tourist island. Fewer and fewer women are becoming freedivers, or “haenyo”, as mothers and grandmothers send many youngsters to school instead. The times have changed.

“It’s now considered the Hawaii of Asia,” See said.

Many men also read his novels, because of the historical perspective they contain.

“The Island of the Sea Women” begins with the Korean Peninsula being a Japanese colony. He then saw the Sino-Japanese War, World War II and the Korean War.

“There’s a lot of that history embedded in my books,” she said. “I’m interested in how history affects people and families.

“We think of wars as dates, presidents, generals and prime ministers, but when you look back, they are families. These big events have huge effects on families and people. Are you at the height or are you failing, are you brave or cowardly, are you faithful or are you betraying someone?”

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Lola R. McClure