The Best Book of 2010

In July I began reading Michael O’Brien’s Island of the World. Thirty pages in I knew this book was extraordinary. At one point in the middle of the night I got up and Googled Josip Lasta, the protagonist’s name, convinced he was a real person.

When I finished reading it, I couldn’t stop discussing it.  I gave copies to friends. But I shrank from writing about Island.  It is a big book in every sense of the word. How can I express its power in a short review? A friend read it and said, “It changed my life.”  Island of the World has 18 reviews on Amazon; all are 5 stars.  Laura, whose review began with these words “Best book ever.”, bought every book written by O’Brien after reading this.

So what is it about?  Light and darkness, loss and blessing, deep interior wounds, survival, sanity after trauma, crucifixion, resurrection.  Grief mingled with inexplicable joy.  All condensed in the life of a single Croatian man named Josip Lasta. 

Yet there is a difference between insightful commentary
about culture and the actual creation of culture.

I am intrigued by the cultures portrayed in O’Brien’s book: the rustic mountain village northwest of Sarajevo with an interdependent community and a faithful priest; the heady high culture of academia discussing philosophy and experiencing art; the tight grip on the edge of sanity, clinging to a vestige of humanity in a labor camp; the incremental rebuilding of a life in an Italian hospital; the life of a solitary janitor in New York City. 

If he had been given a choice, would he have chosen to be
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Never.
It was given. It is gift and cost–and in time the cost may
become entirely gift. It is hard to know if that will be the
end of all this striving, impossible to guess when the next
blessing or blow will fall.

I had read a third of the book when I saw a young man, a friend and former student who shares my love of reading thick, chunky, excellent books.  I stopped him as he walked by my office and told him about Island. Scott listened with interest and thanked me.  I made him wait while I printed out the synopsis from Amazon.  Two days later he was killed in a car accident.  The printout was on his nightstand.  Reading this book in the throes of grief impressed its words on my soul. This book is unforgettable.

I can’t be sure, but I suspect that Michael O’Brien is my new Wendell Berry.  That is the highest compliment I can offer. 

Get this book.  Burrow into it.  It will change you.

Friends’ reviews:  Laura, Janie  Another review: Rabbit Room

I added a post of quotes from this book here.

I love this book so much, I want one of you to win a free copy. 
Enter a comment and I will have a drawing.  Let’s say December 4th. 
Post a link, tweet about it, email a friend (and let me know you did)
and I’ll enter your name twice!
You can have choose between paperback or Kindle version.
International entries are welcome.


28 thoughts on “The Best Book of 2010

  1. because i don’t have the words yet to say what i should about this book, i will simply say – has stayed with me, haunted me some, grieved me, given me hope – and changed me. it was a perfectly timed gift from someone i adore, and i’ll never forget that.The Lord knew what I needed.

  2. Beautiful review, Carol.  Please don’t enter me in the drawing, as I have a copy.  I’m so sorry about your friend.  I’m sure that your loss did heighten your ability to understand and empathize with the numerous losses (and numerous redemptive acts) in the book.

  3. Carol,I too am sorry about the loss of your friend.  I also have added this to my TBR list upon your high recommendation.  Another Wendell Berry?  I have GOT to read this author!!  Berry, as you know, has changed my life.  I’d be honored to be placed in your drawing.  Thank you for this beautiful review.Sandy

  4. Yours is the second glowing review I’ve read.  Immediately adding it to my list.  And please throw my name into the hat.  I’m so sorry to hear about your friend.  

  5. I would feel like I was cheating to win another book from you…but can’t help but leave a comment after reading this post!  You introduced me to Wendell Berry…and your were SO correct about him!  Win it or not I shall have to read this book….and share it with my daughter and her boyfriend.

  6. I am going to spend a small fortune and buy the Kindle version of this book in December, based on your review and quotes alone.  I trust your judgment, and plan to blog about my reading more in 2011 than I have this year.

  7. Well, I’m back. I’ve decided to enter my friend’s name, Cindy, who is reading my book right now. I should say, she is attempting to proceed through it. I’ve heavily encouraged her to read it because I just feel like doing so will be somewhat therapeutic for her. She is a lovely woman about our ages with four children. She’s worked at our school for years and years and put and of her four children through the school, the youngest graduating four years ago. They have endured years of financial hardships since. The reason I really believe Island will be therapeutic is that she lost her son, a senior (I believe) at school, in a tragic accident that couldn’t be stopped. His father was present throughout the accident and had to bear the burden of watching his son die. The son was a vibrant Christian, as are his parents. Grief is never overcome. But when I finished reading about Josip, I just know deep down that as hard as this book is to read, it will also help them. I hope I am not wrong. But as Josip comes to realize, one only arrives at resurrection after crucifixion. So, Carol, please place my name in the drawing for Cindy. She would be humbled to receive one of her own.~Janie

  8. I’m so sorry to read of the loss of your friend. I would be very interested to read O Brien’s book. I enjoyed Strangers and Sojourners very much. Our library doesn’t carry it but I’ve filled out recommendation for them to buy it. I’d be thrilled to win a copy. Thanks for the draw!

  9. i wanted to tell you that i just ordered this book and have begun reading it simply because of your glowing review. it is wonderful. thank you so much carol!blessings,julie harris

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s