The Island of the World by Michael D. O'Brien
My rating: 41/2 of 5 stars
The Island of the World is not reached by swimming the shallows. This is a book with depth and pathos, a tale of a Croatian who suffered unspeakable horrors and loss as the winds of war engulfed his country. An 800+ page tome, the lengthy story begins in 1933, painting the picture of the idyllic and remote mountain village into which Josip Lasta is born. The author takes great pains not to sweep over this happy season quickly, imbedding vivid scenes of Josip's simple and wholesome childhood deeply in the reader's mind. Tender moments with his Father, books he loved, the first stirrings of love, the little game he plays with his Mother as she is hanging out the laundry---evocative pleasures are painted in a way that leaves one feeling the way a child feels; the days are long but the years are short. Because the reader has lived with Josip during his brief, happy years, the stage is set to also deeply feel the loss he endures during the later phases of his life.
One would think that a handful of apolitical peasants in a mountain village, tucked away from the strategic centers of war, would be safe. But no one was safe during the storm of WWII. Josip Lasta suffered unimaginable loss and witnessed horrific scenes of such violence that it took his entire life to wrestle with their aftermath.
Michael D. O'Brien's talents lie not just in storytelling, but in art and iconography as well. The reader will pick up and collect many icons along the way, just as Josip Lasta does: the swallow, the dolphin, the white stag. There are many layers of spiritual depth in much of the reading, many wisdom nuggets to pick up. Most of it was enriching but toward the end of the book I felt it was becoming a little too much. One can only pick up so many nuggets before they become heavy.
That was a small fault, however, and gladly exchanged for the privilege of the interior ruminations of a man who clung to life and love with a tenacity that was remarkable. Josip Lasta's life was ultimately a triumph of faith and sacrifice over a set of circumstances that can only be described as "hellish". A truly brilliant picture of a simple kind of hero.
View all my reviews