A review by leahsbooks
The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

dark emotional medium-paced
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an audiobook ARC. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

I had heard some great things about this book, and was really looking forward to reading it, so I was absolutely thrilled when I got approved for the audiobook version. I don't know much about Korean history or culture, so this was an incredible learning experience as well as an intriguing story. There was plenty of post-WWII history and mythology woven throughout the story, and I enjoyed learning more about the haenyeo (female free divers) and what was one of the few empowering professions that were open to women only in those times. Haenyeo enjoyed an elevated status on Jeju Island and in surrounding areas, although I got the feeling that the mainlanders didn't always view them as favorably.

I loved the female narrator.. She did a great job conveying the tone of the story. The male narrator was good, but I just didn't love his parts of the story as much - it could have been the way the story was written, though. 

I didn't exactly love the way the story was structured. It starts in the middle of the story, which I felt took a little something away from the overall suspense of the story, since I knew a little more about how it would end. The first part is told from Junja's point of view, and takes place mainly in the past. I loved learning more about her younger years, even though there was a lot of pain in her life. The second part was told from her husband's point of view, and jumped between the present and the past. Even though each chapter started by stating when in time it took place, it often included flashbacks to the past, which weren't always clear. I found myself getting lost a lot, and it really affected how invested I was in the story. It almost felt like there were two completely different stories being told, and while I was thoroughly immersed in one story, I was not at all interested in the other. The transition wasn't smooth and it felt disjointed.

While listening to Dr. Moon's reminiscing, I was endlessly frustrated by his constant references to his friend as "the fat boy." His friend is given a name, and occasionally referred to using it (although I can't spell it, since I listened to the audiobook), instead they fall back on referring to him by his weight, when no other characters are referred to by their weight (or any other distinguishing physical characteristics). 

There was a significant emotional component to the book, although I found myself caring less towards the end of the book. Additionally, I wondered about all the loose ends that weren't clarified. What happened in the intervening years between the events of the first part and the second? What ever happened to Junja's siblings? I wanted to know more about those things, but didn't feel like there was enough closure. 

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