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Stone House on Jeju Island

Stone House on Jeju Island


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  • Product Description
  • Press Release
  • Creating a New life of Healing on Jeju Island


    Jeju’s magic brings both blessings and curses. Its volcanic topography is beautiful, but left the island with a harsh environment; hidden underneath the peaceful fishing villages lie the scars of Korea’s painful modern history. Around 25 years ago, after the passing of her young son Tommy, Brenda Paik Sunoo struck out on a journey in search of harbors for the heart. Of all the different places she visited, it was this island that drew her in, and she decided to build a home there. Stone House on Jeju Island is a record of building and moving into a home in a foreign land, and an adventure yarn about tackling a new life in one’s twilight years.

    Within a Tiny Stone Cottage, a Philosophy of Nature, Culture, and Life

    Brenda and her husband Jan struggle to renovate a traditional stone cottage on an island where they did not speak the language. As culture clashes and natural disasters ensued, what was supposed to be a five-month building period turned into a year and a half before the two finally had their hideaway—reflecting their philosophy of life in everything from its materials to its design.

    Daily life in Jeju is quite different from New Jersey or California. Residents can eat vegetables grown by their neighbors and leave their doors open without fear—standing on their own two feet every step of the way. They learn to deal calmly with the odd natural disaster, sharing indescribable warmth and soothing their suffering with their neighbors.



    At Seventy, Still Dreaming of a New Life

    Brenda Paik Sunoo turned 70 this year. When asked by one of the construction participants why she was building a home in a foreign land at her age, she replied, “Why not?” Stone House on Jeju Island is a book for people who are not afraid of challenges as they grow older—people seeking to live their lives without losing their sense of purpose and direction. Passing through the seasons twice over in her newly built stone house, she continues awakening to nature’s cycles of growth and perishing—and to an attitude of hope and affirmation.

    Brenda Paik Sunoo is a third-generation Korean-American writer and photojournalist based in Jeju Island, South Korea. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and received a masters of fine arts in creative writing from Antioch University.

    In 2007–2009, she spent a total of seven months conducting research on Jeju Island’s aging free divers, known as haenyeo. This project resulted in her book Moon Tides―Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea

    (2011), which contributed to the successful campaign for UNESCO designation of the haenyeo as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

    She’s also written two previous books: Seaweed and Shamans―Inheriting the Gifts of Grief and Vietnam Moment.




    Have you ever fantasized about going to an island and starting a new life? Brenda Paik Sunoo and her husband did just that when they left Southern California for Jeju Island off the tip of South Korea. Real life isn’t paradise, though, and the dark history of Jeju mirrors some of Brenda’s own losses. This is a lovely book filled with wonderful encounters, moments of self-examination and spirituality, and the amusing—but sometimes frustrating—quirks of rebuilding a traditional stone house. If you loved A Year in Provence or the fictional Stones for Ibarra, Stone House on Jeju Island is a must-read.

    — Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Shanghai Girls, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Her next novel, The Island of Sea Women, takes place in Jeju Island.


    Every now and then you are blessed to read a book that simultaneously lifts and quiets your soul, that makes you feel that you are a better person for having turned its pages. Ms. Sunoo’s tale is told with great simplicity, honesty, and depth. This is the work of a quiet master. I was touched to read it. I am sure I will not be alone.

    — Noah benShea, philosopher and international best-selling author of We are All Jacob’s Children and Jacob the Baker


    Brenda Paik Sunoo’s book Stone House on Jeju Island documents her transition to her ancestral homeland. It is poetic, touching, funny, insightful, inspiring, and, thanks to her full-color photographs, beautiful.

    — Paola Gianturco, author of Wonder Girls: Changing Our World and Grandmother Power—A Global Phenomenon


    A wonderfully charming, insightful, and hopeful book about possibilities. I am not likely to build a traditional stone house in a coastal fishing village near the Yellow Sea, so instead I will follow Brenda Paik Sunoo—a wise and lyrical guide. This is the best of travel books, intimate and compelling, with a dash of adventurous home construction!

    — Sharman Apt Russell, winner of the John Burroughs Medal, author of the forthcoming Within Our Grasp: Feeding the World’s Children for a Better and Greener Future (Pantheon Books, 2020)


    Sunoo challenges us to reimagine our definition of “home.” This smooth and lyrical storytelling of a Korean American’s search for her ancestral roots reminds us that home is in our heart and spirit. She is the quintessential example of a transnational human being of the 21st century who knows no boundaries and invites us in for a peek.

    — Kenyon S. Chan, Chancellor Emeritus of University of Washington, psychologist and former editor of Rice Magazine


    An extraordinary book, wise and wonderful. Brenda Paik Sunoo uses her gifts as a writer and visual artist to piece together a tapestry showing how to take risks as a senior couple and be fully present in each moment. It is Sunoo’s poignant love story about creating a new and healing life in one of Jeju Island’s traditional fishing villages. Inspired by the granny free divers, she envisions a journey of aging purposefully while “finding the time to slow down and inhale the luster of another full moon.”

    — Judith Van Hoorn, PhD, former Peace Corps volunteer in Korea, Professor Emerita at the University of the Pacific, past president of the American Psychological Association Division of Peace Psychology


    This book intimately weaves together the Korean American author’s personal experiences of settling and finding consolation on Jeju Island with sketches of the island’s history, culture, and lifestyle. There’s a rush of publications on Jeju lately, but only a few fully capture the island’s charms from a stranger’s perspective. This book is Brenda Paik Sunoo’s second book on Jeju to follow Moon Tides, and as a Jeju Islander myself, I applaud her affection for the island.

    — Kang Young-pil, executive vice president of the Korea Foundation








    Part 1 Seduction of Wind, Women, and Stone

    Aewol, ‘Moon by the Water’

    Generosity of the Sea

    Feet to the Ground

    Winds of Hallasan Mountain

    An Affordable Lifestyle


    Part 2 Construction of the House

    House Spirits

    Floor Plan

    Mr. Moon, Our Contractor

    Volcanic Stones

    Beautiful Wooden Beams

    Virginia Woolf—A Room of One’s Own

    Our Clay Tile Roof


    Part 3 Village Immersion

    Neighbors Bearing Gifts

    Next Door Neighbor

    Mother Nature’s Critters

    No Beggars, No Thieves, No Gates

    Typhoon Chaba

    Spirit of Volunteerism

    Scent of Humanity at Jeju’s Five-Day Market

    Spirit of Sasam—Jeju’s April 3rd Uprising and Massacre

    Sister Rosarii McTigue’s Legacy

    Peace on Jeju Island

    Meditation at Bogwangsa Temple

    Language of Compassion




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