Audiobook provided by Netgalley for review.
The Mermaid from Jeju is a beautifully written story perfect for fans of Pachinko- transportative and full of atmosphere, this multigenerational story humanizes the Korean conflict post WWII. Rife with tradition, spiritualism, mysticism, the novel tells the story of Junja, a haeneyo (mermaid), or pearl diver, on the South Korean Island of Jeju. The writing is magical while never feeling fantastical; rather, it captures the culture and tradition in order to connect the reader to both the characters and setting.
The story is told in a non-linear format, opening in America on the day of Junja’s death as the mother of adult daughters. It then goes back to her youth and follows her coming of age against the background of war and its effects on an occupied people. The first half of the novel is definitely stronger than the second half, which jumps back and forth in the timeline, whereas the book previously followed a fairly linear progression after the initial jump back in time.
The audiobook experience was lovely. Multiple narrators brought the story to life; I found the pace of their narration to be comfortable and natural (as opposed to the too-slow style audiobooks are typically produced with). However, I found my attention wandering more during the second half of the book. I am not sure if it is because of the format, or because of the change in the tone of the story, but I think that had I read it physically I would have enjoyed the entirety of the novel to a higher degree.
I recommend this book to fans of World War II fiction looking to broaden their reading to regions outside of America and Europe, as well as those looking to explore the after effects of the war. I also recommend this book to fans of multigenerational family sagas, or books that follow characters over a lifetime.