Review: The Islands by Emily Brugman


Title: The Islands

Author: Emily Brugman

Published: 1st February 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin



My Thoughts:


“A wreck. That was what they called it, when they washed up like that. A wreck of shearwaters. To travel so far, thought Onni, and all for nothing.”

Emily Brugman’s debut, The Islands, is a beautifully told, poignant tale of loss, migration and belonging. Unfolding over several decades, beginning in the late 1950’s, it relates the events in the lives of the Saari family, revealing key moments of adversity and growth, tragedy and joy.

Set largely amongst the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia, Finnish immigrants, Onni Saari and and his wife Alva, join the tiny seasonal cray fishing community on Little Rat Island after Onni’s brother is lost at sea.

Onni works hard to provide for his family, though always wary of meeting the same fate as his brother.

Alva easily takes to life on the island, she enjoys making their small corrugated iron hut a home, helping her husband when needed, and the friendship of the crayfisher’s wives, all of them Finns, but never learns to swim.

To Hilda, Little Rat is home, but when she is five, she and Alva are forced to spend most of each year in Geraldton so that Hilda can attend school. It’s a difficult transition for them both, and when, citing injury, Onni sells the fishing lease in 1975, and moves the family to NSW, their dreams of returning to the Islands are shattered.

Flashbacks reveal the Finnish childhoods of Onni and Alva, marred by war and struggle, desirous of security and prosperity.

Enhanced by snippets of Finnish poems and songs, Brugman shares the unique culture of the Finnish immigrants, drawing on her own family’s background.

The author explores the interconnectedness of the Island community, no one is unaffected by another. She also touches on the xenophobia of mid century Australia, and the awkwardness sometimes experienced by the children caught between cultural expectations.

Brugman weaves the history of the cray fishing industry and the varying landmasses that make up the Abrolhos Islands archipelago, which includes the tragic story of the Batavia shipwreck, artfully into the story.

The prose is lyrical, yet uncomplicated, effortlessly evoking character and landscape.

Descriptions of the Islands and the ocean that surrounds them, both terribly beautiful and terribly dangerous, are entrancing.

Eloquent, meditative and atmospheric, The Islands is a captivating novel.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

5 Comments (+add yours?)

    Feb 25, 2022 @ 06:23:56

    This one sounds like just my cup of tea. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Theresa Smith Writes
    Feb 25, 2022 @ 20:04:02

    Lovely review, I enjoyed this one as well.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Tina Culbertson
    Feb 26, 2022 @ 07:23:33

    I like the sound of this onoe. Adding it to my Goodreads list.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  5. Marg
    Mar 12, 2022 @ 14:08:50

    The cover on this is lovely, and I am really interested to hear that this includes some of the Batavia history.

    Thanks for sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.



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