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The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn
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The Mermaid from Jeju

Inspired by true events on Korea's Jeju Island, Sumi Hahn's “entrancing [debut] novel, brimming with lyricism and magic” (Jennifer Rosner, The Yellow Bird Sings) explores what it means to truly love in the wake of devastation.


Description

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.


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Testimonials


“Sumi Hahn is a dream-weaver whose poetic and powerful prose makes us believe in magic and reconfirms the transformative power of storytelling.”

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, bestselling author of The Mountains Sing

“Original, luminous and lyrical, I was transfixed by the story of the strong haenyeo mermaid women and intrigued by the history, food and the setting. The Mermaid from Jeju is a precious pearl of a book. We need to hear more voices, like Sumi Hahn’s, that shed light on little-known pockets of history in literature.”

Kirsty Manning, author of The Song of the Jade Lily

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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.

Reviews

“Commingling multigenerational family saga, legends, wrenching love story, ghostly hauntings, and tumultuous history, Hahn creates a transporting masterpiece.”

Booklist, starred review

“Hahn brilliantly carries the reader through Junja’s life…[and] masterfully captures the devastating effects of loss and grief, and what people must do to survive war. ”

Publishers Weekly

“Hahn creates a world alive with dreams, with gods, with tradition, and the richness of a rural Korean culture. ”

New York Journal of Books

Audiobook details


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