I finished reading The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn and am glad I read this story. Last week I gave you my brief initial thoughts on the story. If you’ve missed my previous reads, you can do a quick search on the Historical Fiction Around the World series title to find the others I’ve commented on since November of 2021 when I began this tour of fiction authors.
The Mermaid from Jeju is a dual-timeline read. We jump from 2001 to 1944 and 1948 and back again. I am so used to reading in close third person point of view (POV), that it took me a while to realize that this author is narrating with an omniscient POV. Bopping in and out of everyone’s thoughts and emotions was a bit disorienting at first, but once I realized that the narrator knows and sees all, then I could accept it. She has a good reason for using this POV and it works.
Note that the past in this novel is during WWII in Korea. I have found it interesting to see the war from the view in different locales and countries. My father served on Guadalcanal with the U.S. Army and he told me about his experiences. He even wrote them down in a memoir for his family. So seeing others experiences is enlightening. How soldiers in Korea felt about what they were asked to do. How people living in the towns impacted—literally and figuratively—adapted and carried on despite the hardships and tensions. All of the ambiance of the setting and history combined into a moving story.
This story also surprised me because of the mystical elements throughout. I hadn’t expected them, so was delighted to find not only mention of ghosts and spirits but of the inexplicable. Some might call it magic. One of the most fascinating scenes involved a shaman summoning the spirits of the dead family to assemble and communicate in what is termed a “kut.” While it’s tempting to think of it as a séance, the kut is more ceremonial and involved. Elegant and inviting, also. It’s a beautiful scene, one that easily replays in my mind.
Of course, we can’t overlook the title mystical or mythical element: mermaids. In Hahn’s tale, the mermaids are divers who free dive, no scuba or snorkel gear necessary. They are trained, athletic, strong, courageous, and loving women. They bring back treasures from the sea, anything from seaweed to pearls, depending on their needs and what is available. Seeing into the life of such a person was intriguing and I’m glad to have the opportunity to visit their underwater world. I’m not a diver, so that’s as close as I’ll ever get. (Trust me, I’ve tried scuba diving and it’s not my cuppa.)
I’m glad to have read this story. It’s filled with the beliefs and superstitions and daily life of these people. How they treat each other based on their relationship and of course their previous interactions. I’m a believer in understanding cause and effect so that was interesting to read about in this tale as well. The inclusion of dreams as a foretelling of an individual’s future was also a fascinating view into their way of life.
In a nutshell: I recommend this book.
Next up is another one from a Korean author. I’ll be reading Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim. Now I’m off to the library to pick it up.
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