Author: Sumi Hahn
Narrator: Cindy Kay and Raymond Lee
Publication Date: December 8, 2020
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. While 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. Everywhere she turns, Junja is haunted by the loss of her mother, 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. Junja’s canny 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.
The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn is an interesting historical fiction novel about Korea after World War II filled with political unrest and magic.
The Mermaid from Jeju takes place on an island off Korea after World War II. Junja is a deep sea diver. She convinces her family to let her go to the mountains. There she falls in love with Suwol. When Junja returns home her mother is on her deathbed after getting injured on a dive she was doing for Junja. Junja is struggling with grief. Her siblings are sent to live with their father. There is political unrest. US troops are present on Jeju Island. There are also parts in present day from the perspective of Jeju’s husband.
I loved how unique The Mermaid from Jeju is. Junja is a very interesting and complex character. Hahn did a great job expressing Junja’s emotions. The past and present storylines were interesting. The reader learns more about Jeju from the present day through her husband’s perspective when he visits Jeju Island. Junja’s grandmother is a very important character. She is strict and has strong ideals. She also believes in magic and the power of dreams. This was my first book reading about Korea post World War II which was an interesting time period. The Mermaid from Jeju was original and beautifully written.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Cindy Kay and Raymond Lee and thought they did a good job.
Thank you Alcove Press, Crooked Lane Books, Dreamscape Media, Libro.fm and NetGalley for The Mermaid from Jeju.
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.