Orkyang the Baby Haenyo Goes to Dokdo to Gather Seaweed" is beautiffuly illustrated by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Image courtesy Blue Bicycle Publishing
Poet Heo Young Sun and artist Kim Keum Suk have released a book for children which sheds light on the lives of Jeju’s haenyeo diving women in the post-war years.
Based on actual events, the illustrated book follows the lives of six teenage haenyeo as they leave Hyeopjae village on Jeju’s west coast to gather sea mustard on Dokdo Island in the East Sea in the early 1950s.
The author came to know the haenyeo personally after visits to the Hallim-eup village and interviewing diving women. She based the story on Park Okryang, a local grandmother who had been to Dokdo in her youth.
“The most fulfilling thing is that I can let the next generation, the children, know through my own hand the stories of haenyeo surviving the difficult environment in Dokdo with their passion,” said author Heo.
Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo is contested by Japan and Heo wanted to engage Koreans with the islands in a more meaningful way rather than just shouting ‘Dokdo is Korean territory,’ ” she said.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Kim, a French national who published the graphic novel of the movie “Jiseul” earlier this year and “Secret” on the Japanese military’s sex slaves (“comfort women”).
Former editor of the Jemin Daily, author Heo has previously published other history books for children including ‘Jeju, the Island Embraced by Wind’ and ‘Old Partner.’
At the center of the story is Okryang who leaves her coastal home in Jeju with a bunch of other fresh-faced teenagers to dive among the seaweed-rich waters of Dokdo.
The story is based on actual testimony collected by author Heo since 2010 in the Hallim-eup village. Heo is renowned for her work exploring the culture of her Jeju hometown, as well as its painful history.
Heo’s down-to-earth and likable characters are well complemented by the evocative artwork of Kim which is reminiscent of an oil painting with its brush-by-brush detail.
The book covers one month of the diving women’s lives as they live in a Dokdo cave and collect the sea mustard carpeting the sea floor.
‘Okryang the Baby Haenyeo Goes to Dokdo to Gather Seaweed’ is published by Blue Bicycle Publishing.
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