Quotes from Island of the World


  

I couldn’t put enough quotes in my review of Island of the World.  So here, with space to stretch and relax, are some I marked. I omitted longer sections and any spoilers.  All are from the pen of Michael O’Brien.

~  I’m giving away a copy of this book to one of my readers.  ~
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Language should be, he says, as fluid as love and as stable as marriage.

There are times when it is hard to resist the world that is so rapidly changing all around him.  It takes energy to resist, even if only within the privacy of his thoughts.

Life is strange. But God has the final word.

Life itself is the great surprise, and all that is within it is an unpacking of subsidiary wonders.

Europeans understand that flavor is not about sensory stimulation, it is about evocation. It is art and memory. It is reunion with exalted moments, and such moments are never solitary ones. In short, life without coffee is not really life.

The killers murder not only their immediate victims; they spread death into the souls of survivors.

Can you really see the future if you have not seen the past for what it was?

Can a dwelling place without books every truly be a home?

They like a bit of verse as emotional prompts on greeting cards or as page-filler in periodicals, but they do not dive deep. Perhaps they do not know the deep is there. The pace of modern life, television, subways, fast food–these all work against the sublime illuminating moment when the distance between utterance and reception is closed in an embrace.

They are enjoying the rather unusual experience of it all–the sensation of a time-tested and comfortable friendship that is only hours old.

It may be that he cannot always distinguish between his losses and blessings, and the release of tears reduces the pressure.

Truth is always embedded in beauty.

On Christmas morning, they awake to the sound of bells ringing throughout the city. This, doubtless, is illegal, but the government probably does not have the stamina to destroy Christmas utterly.

Is he alone? Yes, he is alone, and yet, not alone. Beyond all sorrows, he has the fire of Holy Communion with Christ, as well as friends and fishing and the central grace in his life–his mission to forgive.

We are born, we eat, and learn, and die.  We leave a tracery of messages in the lives of others, a little shifting of the soil, a stone moved from here to there, a word uttered, a song, a poem left behind. I was here, each of these declare. I was here.

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.