Book Review: The Islands by Emily Brugman

About the Book:

In the mid-1950s, a small group of Finnish migrants set up camp on Little Rat, a tiny island in an archipelago off the coast of Western Australia. The crayfishing industry is in its infancy, and the islands, haunted though they are by past shipwrecks, possess an indefinable allure.

Drawn here by tragedy, Onni Saari is soon hooked by the stark beauty of the landscape and the slivers of jutting coral onto which the crayfishers build their precarious huts. Could these reefs, teeming with the elusive and lucrative cray, hold the key to a good life?

The Islands is the sweeping story of the Saari family: Onni, an industrious and ambitious young man, grappling with the loss of a loved one; his wife Alva, quiet but stoic, seeking a sense of belonging between the ramshackle camps of the islands and the dusty suburban lots of the mainland; and their pensive daughter Hilda, who dreams of becoming the skipper of her own boat. As the Saari’s try to build their future in Australia, their lives entwine with those of the fishing families of Little Rat, in myriad and unexpected ways.

A stunning, insightful story of a search for home.

Published by Allen & Unwin

Released 1st February 2022

My Thoughts:

Hauntingly atmospheric and written with such a depth of feeling, The Islands was a magnificent read, one that I lingered over and relished from beginning to end.

I am drawn to stories of migration, particularly set in the era that this one was. My grandparents came to Australia in the early 1950s from Belgium, they travelled over with some other friends who had decided along with them on a fresh start. I could relate to so much of this story; I grew up in a bilingual household, the English mixed with Flemish, living one kind of life with my Australian born family and a whole other one with my Belgian family and their community that had grown extensively from the few that had travelled over to Australia together. It is a distinctly unique experience to be a part of a migrant family. You have a foot in each world, a sense at times that you are also neither one nor the other, but a curious new blend of two vastly diverse cultures – even down through the generations. Emily Brugman captured this feeling with such precision, within each of the characters.

The Islands themselves were so vividly brought to life, the history leaping off the page and immersing me into the remote and enclosed world that they all inhabited whilst living there. This is not a part of Australia that I knew very much about, so I was fascinated by the day to day living, the industry, and of course, the haunting history. I just loved how much the islands worked their way into the very psyche of those who lived there, becoming a refuge, a talisman even of a new life and home to hang onto. This was evident in the way they all floundered when on the mainland, as though they had been displaced for a second time.

“Life is a gasp of air in an eternity of not breathing.”

The way this story ended was achingly beautiful. I highly recommend this one. A solid five star read.


Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Islands by Emily Brugman

  1. Beautifully said Theresa! And so interesting to hear about how it resonated with your own family history, I had no idea! 😍❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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