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Granny DiverOh Mi-kyung, Lee Myung-ae
『Granny Diver』Author: Oh Mi-kyung
Illustrator: Lee Myung-ae
Publication date: January 30, 2020
Number of pages: 44
ISBN : 9791157852918
A Warm Story Told by a Granny Haenyeo
Just by holding on to a picture book dancing with blue wavy light, my heart is opened to a sublime serenity. I feel great as though I’m holding the wide blue seas of Jeju in my arms. Granny Diver has a unique structure. In its prologue and epilogue, the book tells the story of the European mythological creature Selkie and associates that myth with the story of the Jeju Haenyeo. Legend has it that the Selkie, a mystical being that looks like a seal, sheds her skin as she emerges from the seas and transforms into a human to live among people. Nikolaus Heidelbach’s picture book When I Grow Up I’m Going to Be A Seal (Pulbit, 2015) is also based on the Selkie myth.
My granny is a seal. She is the daughter of the Sea Goddess. / Today, I wait for my granny again. / Ho-wee, ho-wee, I can hear the sound of a whistle from afar / It’s the sound of granny letting out her breath that she had been holding in the water. Doesn’t she sound like a singing bird? / From afar, a lotus flower is floating in the waters. / Granny is returning to shore, carrying her tewak.
As the story unfolds, it switches to a child’s point of view. This child is the granddaughter of the seal woman who could not return to sea because she lost her skin, as told in the prologue. The sea is close and yet so far. The granddaughter waiting for granny knows that she is safe at the sound of her breath. The granddaughter can now rest at ease. When granny swims through the blue sea to come home, clouds are reflected in the sea, and the sea looks like the sky. Granny is depicted as if she is swimming through the sky to come home, making the scene dignified and splendid, just like a scene from a myth.
When the granddaughter asks granny if she’s hungry, granny says she is full because she has had a lot of wind to eat. The story of granny, responding to her worrying granddaughter in Jeju dialect, is warm and affectionate. What granny brought up and filled her basket with is the blue sea. To her admiring granddaughter, granny would always say, “This is all from the Sea Goddess. I’m the daughter of the Sea Goddess.” The child is astonished at her granny’s wonderful skills and the kind heart of the Sea Goddess who hands her granny treasures of the sea. She then urges her granny. She says she wants to go into the sea as well. But granny says that the child must grow more and smiles. Even though the sea is kind and gives its all, on some days, the sea is fearful and scary, as if it will swallow up everything. On stormy days, the child waits nervously for her granny. Her heart sinks at the thought of granny, who may turn into a seal and never come back.
The day the child has been anticipating is here. She had received a seal costume from her granny and practiced in the shallow sea. Today, she finally gets to go into the deep blue sea. “You cannot be greedy in the sea. It’s dangerous to breathe in water, so be careful.” Granny has faithfully lived her whole life adapting to nature, and this is the message she wants to tell us. But the child forgets her granny’s words. She covets something sparkling between the coral forest, and the moment she reaches for it, she breathes in water. The story continues for two pages, with no words and only two illustrations. As the child tumbles between the coral forest and falls deeper into the sea, the glittering sea turns into a dark source of fear. At that very moment, a large, black shadow slowly approaches the child. What is that shadow? Is it the seal from the myth? Is it granny dressed in the black Haenyeo suit? The picture book ends the story there, leaving the ending to the readers’ imagination.
After I safely got out of the sea, I asked. / “Granny, did you ever covet anything in the sea?” / “I did. But I held myself back to protect something even more precious.”
With her blushing face, the child looks up at her granny. This face may also be the face granny had a long time ago when she was a child. Love is passed down and down again until this very generation to protect something more precious and dear. Now, when she watches her granny swim far out into the waters, the granddaughter has firm faith in her granny. Granny must truly be the daughter of the Sea Goddess.
I picture the sea that the Haenyeo have protected and cultivated all their lives. Rejoice and be grateful for every moment in your life. Do not be greedy. The Haenyeo are born and raised by the sea, and they spend the rest of their lives by the sea. Their hearts also sway like the blue sea. The emotions conveyed in the book are even further intensified through Lee Myung-ae’s illustrations as she expresses the Jeju seas in various settings — by weather, emotions and perspective.
Granny Diver is a beautiful and warm story told by a Haenyeo granny who sincerely lives as one with nature. As I watch the Haenyeo dive beyond the blue waves, I feel a deep sense of respect at the thought that our daily lives also come together day by day to become history to eventually create a myth.
By Lee Seon-ju