The Bookworm explores the diving women of Jeju Island | VailDaily.com

The Bookworm explores the diving women of Jeju Island

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Lisa See's novel, "Island of Sea Women," is just one of 12 books she's authored since realizing she wanted to become a writer as a young adult. Her titles have made the New York Times' bestseller list.
Special to the Daily

IF YOU GO

What: Lisa See discusses “Island of Sea Women.”

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Colorado Mountain College, Edwards Campus, 150 Miller Ranch Road.

Cost: $10, includes appetizers

More information: Call 970-926-7323 or visit www.bookwormofedwards.com.

Somewhere deep in the Pacific Ocean, women are diving for sea life in a way that only they can. Their biology allows them to dive to extreme depths and hold their breath for minutes at a time. Their lives, humanity and friendship are captured in a new book that only Lisa See could write.

Join New York Times bestselling author See and the Bookworm at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards for a discussion of See’s new book, “Island of Sea Women,” a beautiful, thoughtful novel that illuminates a world few are aware of, and one that may not be around for much longer. The event sold out in June, so the Bookworm moved it to a bigger space at Colorado Mountain College to accommodate more guests.

See had three goals growing up: Never get married, never have children and always live out of a suitcase. None of those goals included becoming a bestselling author, but it happened anyway. “I took two years off from college to travel in Europe, wondering how I was going to make my life work the way I had envisioned it,” See said. “One morning, I woke up and it was like a cartoon lightbulb had gone off in my head. I thought, ‘Oh, I could be a writer.’”

That realization led her life in an unforeseen direction. She is now the author of 12 books, all of which tell the stories of her Asian heritage. “All writers are told to write what they know,” See said. “My family is what I know.”

What See didn’t know — or anticipate, rather — was the way in which the subject of her new novel, would grab her when she was least expecting it.

“I was sitting in my doctor’s office, leafing through magazines, as we all do,” See said. “I came across a tiny article about the diving women of Jeju Island. I ripped it out of the magazine and took it home.”

She hung onto the article for eight years before she decided she had to write their story, which became “Island of Sea Women.”

“I felt like these women were calling to me, but I also felt like if I didn’t do this now, then I might not have another chance,” she said.

The reason behind her urgency was UNESCO naming the Sea Women of Jeju a world heritage tradition.

“UNESCO estimated that within fifteen years the culture would be gone entirely,” See said. “That was four years ago. I thought I couldn’t wait five, 10 or 15 years to write this book.”

She dove into her research, traveled to Jeju and spoke with women who had been diving in a more literal sense for decades, with no breathing apparatus and to depths that would give the most experienced of divers the bends, many of whom are still diving well into their 90s.

See tells the story of these women and this unique culture through the eyes of two friends growing up during these uncertain times.

“What I want people to get from my books is that all people on the planet share common life experiences and share common emotions. That’s what literature does best,” she said.