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TWE RADIO: Bestselling Author Lisa See On the Remarkable Sea Women of Jeju Island

Lisa See and Yun Mija, one of the haenyeo (sea women) of Jeju Island, South Korea, /Photo: Courtesy Lisa See

Lisa See and Yun Mija, one of the sea women of Jeju Island, South Korea /Photo: Courtesy Lisa See

By Stacey Gualandi/May 30, 2019

Don’t miss my BRAND NEW interview on The Women’s Eye with New York Times bestselling author Lisa See. Her newest novel The Island of Sea Women has already been honored as an “Indie Next pick” by Independent booksellers, and Barnes & Noble chose the novel for its nationwide March 2019 Book Club.

See is currently on a very busy national tour promoting The Island of Sea Women, the story of a lifelong relationship between two best girlfriends set against the real-life backdrop of the little-known free-diving women of South Korea’s Jeju Island.

Book Cover of Lisa See's new book, Island of Sea Women of Jeju IslandSee’s eleventh book is a close examination of the female bond and forgiveness on a personal level. She says the theme of forgiveness truly “permeates the entire book.”

“I have been so touched on this tour by how far people have come to hear me,” says See.

“I think it’s because I am writing about women in a way … that people can really connect their own lives to these fictional characters. They think about, ‘What would I do in that situation?’”

Lisa See has been a good friend to The Women’s Eye since 2011 when she first joined me to talk about for her #1 novel Dreams of Joy. More recently, she was kind enough to write a quote for the cover of our book 20 Women Changemakers.

Needless to say, it was our pleasure to have See back to talk about her latest work of historical fiction.

Lisa on her trip to visit the sea women, Jeju Island/Photo Courtesy: Lisa See

Lisa on her trip to visit the sea women, Jeju Island/Photo Courtesy: Lisa See

See says she spent eight years writing and doing extensive research for this historical novel. She even visited the island and witnessed first-hand the elderly women who are still diving to harvest seaweed – all while holding their breath for up to three minutes at a time.

“I wanted to capture it while I still could,” says See of the hundreds-of-years-long tradition that could die out in 15 years.

Be sure to listen to our interview to find out why See prefers fiction (“there is an emotional connection that I don’t get with non-fiction”), why she writes the book’s last line first, and how many years she has been working on her next book (26!). Then read The Island of Sea Women! (And yes, she still types using only three fingers!)

Lisa with TWE's Pam Burke at Poisoned Pen Bookstore, March, 2019

Lisa with TWE’s Pam Burke at Poisoned Pen Bookstore, March, 2019

To learn more about Lisa See, Jeju Island and the remarkable history of the sea women, click here: www.lisasee.com.

TWITTER: lisa_see

FACEBOOK: lisaseebooks

INSTAGRAM: lisasee_writer/

TWE STORY OF THE WEEK: 2017 Books Not To Miss

Lisa See, NY Times Bestselling Author, and Pamela Burke, founder The Women's Eye | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Lisa See and TWE ‘s  Pam Burke at Poisoned Pen Bookstore


By Pamela Burke/December 22, 2017

It’s been a wonderful year for us to find inspiring authors to post on our website. Since the year is ending, we thought it appropriate to remember these Top Five 2017 Books on TWE that have made their mark here. We hope you pick them up or order online whenever you get the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.

1. Lisa See and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane–Be transported to the remote mountains of China by this #1 New York Times bestselling author. Lisa writes a moving story about tradition, tea farming and the enduring connection between mothers and daughters.

We were fortunate enough to meet up with Lisa when she spoke at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Phoenix.

Documentary Photographer Paola Gianturco with Co-Author and granddaughter, Alex Sangster with their book, Wonder Girls: Changing Our World | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Documentary photographer, Paola Gianturco, with co-author and granddaughter, Alex Sangster with their book, “Wonder Girls: Changing Our World”

2.  Paula Gianturco and Wonder Girls–Girls are banding together all over the world, finding strength in numbers and succeeding. Wonder Girls: Changing Our World is the first book to document the work of groups of activist girls 10-18. Documentary photographer Paula and her 11-year-old granddaughter Alex Sangster write about 15 groups of girls in 13 countries and their remarkable accomplishments.

Our radio host Stacey Gualandi was the first to interview Paola about the book this summer on this TWE podcast.

Geek Girl Rising authors Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Authors of Geek Girl Rising Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens

3. Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens and their Geek Girl Rising–Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech–Patricia Caso interviewed Heather and Samantha about the changes in the tech world with the rising numbers of women who are pursuing their dreams–building cutting edge tech startups, investing in each other’s ventures and rallying the next generation of girls to get involved.

Theresa McKeown/Stacey Gualandi/Photo Provided by Stacey Gualandi | 2017 Books Not To Miss

Our contributor and radio host Stacey Gualandi with Theresa McKeown

4. Theresa McKeown and The ABC’s of Everything–Our colleague Theresa and her sisters created a company to publish creative books for children of all ages. Her first book, The ABC’s of Being Me, is part journal, part scrapbook and part photo album. Each book is a personal time capsule to be opened, remembered and cherished over the course of a lifetime.

If you are looking for a books that explore the world kids live in and that will exhance their potential, please check these out. Her second has been published, How to Eat Your ABC’s and they plan on writing more! It’s a change of career for Theresa and she loves it!

Catherine Anaya and Pamela Burke holding 20 WOMEN CHANGEMAKERS | 2017 Books Not To Miss

TWE Radio host Catherine Anaya and Pam

5. Pamela Burke and Patricia Caso, co-editors of 20 Women Changemakers–Taking Action Around the World–We are excited that we were able to publish our first book this year, an anthology that includes twenty of the inspiring women we have included on our website, radio show and podcasts over the last 5 years.

It’s a labor of love and one we hope you all get to read. These are women we can all learn from with lots of advice as to how we can all get involved and make the world a more positive place.

As Jenny Bowen, the founder of OneSky (formerly Half the Sky), whom we feature says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s Chinese orphans or what it is. If you see something wrong in the world that needs fixing, you can do something.”

There are many more fascinating books and authors we could list here but wanted to give you a taste of those we were able to feature this year. We can’t wait to start 2018 and see what wonders unfold as we keep up with our changemakers and their continuing accomplishments!

Thanks for reading our site and listening to our show…we appreciate your interest and hope you continue to follow our EYE.





Bestselling Author Lisa See Explores the Bond Between Mothers and Daughters

Lisa See, author/Photo: P. Burke

Lisa See at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona/Photo: P. Burke

UPDATE: Lisa’s new book The Island of Sea Women is out March 5, 2019.  Looks fascinating!

By Patricia Caso/June 6, 2017
Photos provided by Lisa See (@Lisa_See)

TWE’s Stacey Gualandi’s wonderful interview with the New York Times bestselling author, Lisa See, posted in 2011. Since then Lisa has written several more compelling historical fiction books, the latest being The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

“I feel with every book, I put in everything I ever knew into it. Yet I am still growing and changing from that first book to now. Life changes…even in these last three years, I have learned new things.” Lisa See

This time Lisa, who continues to explore women’s relationships and the concept of mother-love, writes about China’s transnational adoption with a backdrop of the little known Akha people and the tea pickers of an ancient tea, Pu’er. I wanted to find out what more she has uncovered personally and professionally on her themes of women’s friendships and her interest in the dual cultures of China and America… [Read more…]

TOP 10: Post Critic Carolyn See Stood Up to Tastemakers and Became One of Her Own

Carolyn See, writer Washington Post in Topanga, Ca/Photo: Family Photo

Post Critic Carolyn See Stood Up to Tastemakers and Became One of Her Own: M. G. Lord–washingtonpost.com–7/18/16–Photo: Family

Lisa See On The Joy Of Writing And “Dreams Of Joy”

Lisa See

UPDATE 12/1/16: Lisa’s brand new book The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is expected to be published 3/21/17.  Looking forward to this!

UPDATE 4/4/14: Lisa’s newest book, China Dolls, is coming out June 3 and getting a lot of attention from her fans. It’s set in San Francisco before World War II and promises to be another bestseller.

By Pamela Burke

TWITTER: @Lisa_See

Best-selling novelist Lisa See has been fascinated with Chinese culture and female friendship ever since she published her first book “On Gold Mountain” in 1995. This “Los Angeles treasure,” as she’s been called, is now the author of seven popular novels with the release this year of “Dreams of Joy.”

“…write 1,000 words a day and one charming note. I now say that to anyone who will listen.” Lisa See

Lisa See "Dreams of Joy"When “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” a master work that has been translated into 38 languages, made its way to the silver screen, our reviewer Sue Podbielski praised its seldom portrayed theme of women’s loyalty and friendship.

We were delighted when we could talk to Lisa on “The Women’s Eye Radio Show” and hear more about how she “cuts to the bone” when she writes. She’s working on yet another novel, but she took time out to talk to us about the love she has for her craft. Here is Stacey Gualandi’s interview… [Read more…]

Lisa See: Novelist On Her New Book “Dreams of Joy”

September 17, 2011

Lisa See | Best-selling Author of "Dreams of Joy"

Lisa See


Click Me to hear the interviewClick to Listen!


Best-selling author Lisa See discusses her new book set partially in China,”Dreams of Joy.”

SUE’S MOVIE REVIEW — Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan poster

By Sue Podbielski

What brings about the tie that binds two women in a life-long friendship? This is the theme of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the international best-selling novel by Lisa See, recently made into a feature film by director Wayne Wang. He also directed the successful movie version of Amy Tan’s equally successful book, The Joy Luck Club.

I believe that each of us has one particular area in life that is especially blessed. For some, it is devoted parents. For others, it is an extremely supportive marriage, and for still others, it is material success or worldly accomplishment.

Lisa See

Author Lisa See

For me, it has always been, and continues to be, my friends. All of my life I have been blessed with female (and male) friends who have cared for me, taught me, protected me, and given me opportunities that I would have otherwise missed.

Some of these friends are close. Some are not. However when we see each other again, we just pick right up where we left off. Like anyone in this position, I am immensely grateful.

So when the film version of this epic story about the friendship between two women in 19th century China hit the screen last week in New York, I was there. So were hundreds of other women who waited in line to see the movie version of Lily and Snow Flower’s tale, which has resonated with readers around the world. The book has been translated into almost 40 languages.


Keep in mind that Snow Flower is no ordinary example of chick lit; its film version is not an Asian-style chick flick. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan tells the story of two laotongs which literally means “old sames.” The custom of laotong was not practiced throughout China, but was specific to a minority tribe in the Hunan province where the story of Lily and Snow Flower, played by Gianna Jun and Li Bingbing, takes place.

In the laotong tradition two girls would be matched at a young age as laotongs if they were destined to be together. In Snow Flower the young girls are paired by the venerated matchmaker who decides to make them “sisters” because they were born on the same day, Lily to a poor family and Snow Flower to a rich one.

As laotongs, they pledged to be loyal friends forever, and this bond was formalized in a contract that could never be broken.

Snow Flower

Li Bingbing as Lily and Gianna Jun as Snow Flower

As both See’s novel and the film version show, women’s lives in China were difficult and emotionally brutal in those early times. Women were the property of their husbands and his family. From an early age they were taught obedience as their highest quality. They defied neither their husband, his mother, nor their own parents. They did what they were told.

Their marriages were business arrangements made by their families with a matchmaker who tried to get the “best deal.” A women’s worth on the marriage market was derived from her family’s wealth and social status and by her feet. If a girl, even a girl from a poor family, had small, perfectly shaped feet then she had a chance to make a respectable match and “marry up.”

Bound Feet

Feet that were bound/Photo: Northhampton Museum

This instituted the painful custom of foot binding in which a girl of around six years old had the bones in her feet broken. The feet were then wrapped tightly. They were continually unbound and checked, but the broken bones were always folded over again and rebound.

Many female children died from infection as a result. By adulthood, the feet were supposed to be no larger than a child’s. These small delicate feet were called “The Golden Lotus,” and for Chinese men they were a major turn-on. And who customarily broke the bones and bound the feet of a Chinese girl? A woman.

Frequently, a professional foot binder was secured because the mother was often too emotionally weak to perform the excruciating process on her own daughter.

Snow Flower book

Lily’s mother in the book is a skillful foot binder, unmoved by her daughter’s cries and rigorously disciplined in this custom. It is her skill which helps her daughter attain her fortune.

In the movie, when the small child Lily cries out to her mother and begs her to stop, her mother replies, “In pain there is beauty. In suffering, there is peace of mind.” This is a poignant belief which may have comforted her generation of Chinese women throughout their hard lives.

While bound feet might give a woman with a “Lotus gait” thought to be erotic by Chinese men, they also made her unable to walk. For all of their beauty, Lily’s dainty feet can hardly hold her up. She needs the assistance of a servant to walk. Decades later as is shown in the movie, Chinese women look back on foot binding as if they were being shackled in slavery.

If foxholes make men into devoted friends, then it is men who do the same for women. The laotongs stuck together. They devised their own secret language called nu shu, which no one else could understand. It enabled them to send private messages back and forth written on a fan.

Snow FLower and the Secret Fan

Lily and Snowflower overlooking modern Shanghai.

Sometimes Lily and Snow Flower unobtrusively pass the fan to each other when they meet. Sometimes they send it by messenger. Their husbands are completely left out because men are unable to understand what was written in nu shu. A lifetime of messages could be sent on fans.

Like any long, intimate relationship, the one between Lily and Snow Flower has its complications, and inevitably conflict occurs when the two friends are thrust by fate into different kinds of lives. When the two have a falling out, they chillingly inflict their anger on each other with silent, yet deep, cuts to the bone, something only close friends know how to do.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Lily and Snow Flower prepare to flee the rebels.

In the film version, director Wayne Wang juxtaposes the tale of Lily and Snow Flower with a story of two modern Chinese women, Nina and Sophia, who struggle to maintain their own close friendship while meeting the demands of complex lives in today’s Shanghai.

While Wang most likely intended to broaden the appeal of See’s original version, he loses its soul by offering us this contemporary story that was not part of the original book. This is sad because much of the rich detail in See’s historical saga is missing in his confusing rendition. If only Wang had the courage of the fictitious Lily and Snow Flower and dared to make this a full historical drama by staying faithful to See’s novel.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Lily reunites with Snow Flower and her family.

No doubt he felt it to be too old-fashioned to do so. However, the gifted performances of the young actresses Gianna Jun and Ni Bingbing playing dual roles somehow rescue the movie.

Their faces are luminous in their expressions. They manage to convey the agony and tenderness at the center of Lily’s and Snow Flower’s relationship and the intensity and playfulness at the core of Sophia’s and Nina’s.

Snow Flower actresses and director

Gianna Jun, Li Bingbing and Wayne Wang

I would not tell anyone to ignore the movie version of Snow Flower. It is gorgeous to behold (although I do not know anyone who sees a film for the sake of the art direction). If you truly would like to get the most from this story, make sure to read the book as well.

Women’s loyalty to one another is seldom openly discussed. I have seen all types of surveys on women’s fidelity in marriage. I have read all sorts of studies about women undermining each other in the workplace and the failure of the female gender to bond or to create an “old girls’ network.”

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Lily reads message from Snow Flower written in their secret language on a fan.

However, there is far less attention, scholarly or otherwise, given to the subject of women and friendship. I believe the popularity of See’s original Snow Flower illustrates an underlying truth in the lives of women. Loyalty toward other women in close friendships is as essential to most women as are all the other aspects of their lives.

The bottom line on Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is to read the novel if you have not already. See the movie if you want a little more. But in either case or neither case, remember to call your best friend.


Do you have a story about a life-long friendship? Is so, would you like to share it? Please send your friendship story by email to spodbielski@aol.com. All names will be held confidential.

Sue Podbielski is a writer, producer, and community activist.


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, directed by Wayne Wang; written by Angela Workman, Ron Bass and Michael K. Ray, based on the book by Lisa See; director of photography, Richard Wong; edited by Deirdre Slevin; music by Rachel Portman; production design and costumes by Man Lim Chung; produced by Wendi Murdoch and Florence Sloan; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

Cast: Gianna Jun (Snow Flower/Sophia), Li Bingbing (Lily/Nina), Vivian Wu (Aunt), Jiang Wu (Butcher), Russell Wong (Bank C.E.O.), Archie Kao (Sebastian) and Hugh Jackman (Arthur).