Saturday, January 23, 2010

Island of the World

"Best book ever." Those were the words my friend's 18-year-old son said to me in reference to Michael O'Brien's novel, Island of the World.

Back in the summer I asked my friend what she was reading and as we were discussing books her son walked up and said, "You need to read Island of the World. Best book ever." I mentally filed away the title, and a few days later I thought to put it on my wish list at PaperBackSwap. Then I forgot about it. However, every once in a while those three words, "best book ever," would enter my mind and I'd wonder if I should just buy the book and see if it really was that good. My friend's son is an intelligent and discerning reader, and I trusted his judgement. On the other hand, those extremely high words of praise had to be hyperbole.

He was right.

A week ago I bought the book and began reading it. I could not put it down. I wanted to know how the novel ended, yet I did not want it to end. This is a book I will buy for my children and recommend to friends. I could not do justice to this book if I tried to write a summary, but I think the publisher (Ignatius Press) did a good job of capturing the essence of the story on the dust jacket, so here it is:

"Island of the World is the story of a child born into the turbulent world of the Balkans in 1933, and traces his life into the third millennium. The central character is Josip Lasta, the son of a school teacher in a remote village high in the mountains of the Croatian interior. As the novel begins, World War II is underway and the entire region of what became Yugoslavia is torn by conflicting factions: German and Italian occupying armies, and the rebel forces that resist them--the fascist Ustashe, Serb nationalist Chetniks, and Communist Partisans. As events gather momentum, hell breaks loose, and the young and the innocent are caught in the path of great evils; their only remaining strength is their religious faith and their families.

"For more than a century, the confused and highly inflammatory history of former Yugoslavia has been the subject of numerous books, many of them rife with revisionist history and propaganda. The peoples of the Balkans live on the border of three worlds: the Islamic, the orthodox Slavic East, and Catholic Europe, and as such they stand in the path of major world conflicts that are not only geo-political but fundamentally spiritual. This novel cuts a core question: how does a person retain his identity, indeed his humanity, in absolutely dehumanizing situations?

"In the life of the central character, the author demonstrates that to retain one's humanity can demand suffering and sacrifice, heroism, and even holiness. When he is twelve years old, his entire world is destroyed, and so begins a lifelong odyssey to find again the faith which the blows of evil have shattered. The plot takes the reader through Josip's youth, his young manhood, life under the Communist regime, hope and loss and unexpected blessings, the growth of his creative powers as a poet, and the ultimate test of his life. There are journeys that show him new worlds and numerous people who affect his life, who are in turn changed by him. Ultimately this novel is about the ways Divine Providence can bring forth good fruit from the lives of those who have suffered radical injustice. It is about the crucifixion of a soul--and about resurrection."

Best book ever.



Blogger Emily said...

Thank you for sharing the review, Laura. It sounds engrossing. Had you read any of Michael O'Brien's novels previously? Looks like I will be adding this one to my reading list. Off to check my library's website to see if they have it....have a blessed day in the Lord!

1:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

No, Emily, I'd never read any of O'Brien's other books - never even heard of the guy before I read this book.

But I think I will have to give some of his other books a try now, to see if they're as good as Island of the World.

If you do read it, please let me know what you think of it!

1:36 PM  
Blogger hopeinbrazil said...

Thanks for posting such an interesting review. I'll have to add this to my list.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Disappointed to find that my library system doesn't have the book. :P

However, I came up with a different treasure while on the hunt for Michael O'Brien. Here's a link to a new book by a man with the same name:

Sounds fascinating! Bonus is that my libary has it on order.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Phyllis said...

Thanks for the review! I've loved other O'Brien books, so now I look forward to reading this one too!

1:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Phyllis, what other O'Brien books have you read and what did you think of them? What titles would you suggest? My library has no books by him so I will probably have to buy any novels by O'Brien that I'd like to read.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Carol in Oregon said...


You make it impossible! Delightfully impossible!!

This title is going on my list.



(happy sigh)

9:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Carol, when you read it - whether that is weeks, months, years, or decades from now - you MUST let me know your thoughts about the book!

10:17 PM  
Anonymous vanessa said...

I'm curious about this book, and have made a note of it, thank you for the recommendation. I read 'The Mysteries of Glass' by Sue Gee, as a recommendation, and was enchanted with it. It's one book that won't go to the charity shop, I know I'll read it again. Her descriptions of the setting, the ice and snow and cold, are so vivid, and stay with me a couple of years after reading the book. Love Vanessa xxx (do you mind if i knit)

3:51 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Vanessa! Now I'll have to look for The Mysteries of Glass.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Hi Laura, I was tipped to your blog by Anne over at PalmTree Pundit. I haven't read "Island of the World," but I enjoyed Michael O'Brien's first big novel, "Father Elijah: An Apocalypse." You might, also. It's the kind of book that stays with you long after you're done reading it. And while most of the characters in it are pious Catholics, it's a strong story that would appeal to any Christian reader and many secular ones.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Carol in Oregon said...


This post caught Janie's attention at Seasonal Soundings. She's in the middle of the book, and I could not resist. Like I said earlier: you make it delightfully impossible!

I had the book on PBS wish list. Like you, I went ahead and purchased it. It is sitting on my bedstand. I am in the middle of a most excellent book, but one that is serious reading. I may give myself a light read (along the lines of Crampton Hodnet---I loved that book---thank you for the recommendation) in between. But I hope to remember to tell you what I thought of the book when I'm finished.

Excited all over again,


1:38 PM  

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