Michael D. O'Brien is such a gifted author. When i heard he had released a new novel i wasted no time in buying it. Again i did not regret doing so. I spent the Advent season reading this book and i felt like I was in the skin of the main character, Josip Lasta. I could not put the book down; i was again so emotionally involved in one of O'Brien's main characters. I had to keep telling myself, "It's only a book". I shed so many tears I had to put the book away for a time and told myself to "forget about it". This book really helped me to prepare for the spirit of Christmas.
The Island of the World is set in the context of World War II and the entire region of Yugoslavia is torn by conflicting factions: German and Italian occupying armies, and the rebel forces that resist them--the fascist Ustashe, Serb nationalist Chetniks, and Communist Partisans. As events gather momentum, hell breaks loose, and the young and the innocent are caught in the path of great evils. The novel follows the agony and the rising of Josip Lasta, the main character. From Childhood to old age you follow Josip's life which is touched by both despair and by God's providential blessings. But the real story is Josip's spiritual journey. He has to learn to regain his faith in God, which was so strong as a child but lost as a result of the evil he encounters. We see him, through the course of the novel, struggling with anger and hatred towards the people who turned his childhood world into turmoil. The real climax is when he encounters a mysterious figure, a priest in St Peter's Square (who is really Christ) and as a result sees that God had indeed been with him even in the midst of deep evil. Josip is thus changed and healed by the encounter and learns to feel charity for those who hurt him and to carry God's message of love and healing to all the hurt and wounded souls God places in his path along life. This novel cuts to the core question: how does a person retain his identity, indeed his humanity, in absolutely dehumanising situations? Through the life of Josip, O'Brien shows us that this will demand suffering and sacrifice, heroism, deep forgiveness and reconciliation, and even holiness. It is a story about the death and resurrection of a soul. Never have i read a book which deals so well with the essence of Christian spirituality; humility, love, and self-sacrifice. This book will awaken your mind and stir your heart to its depths.
All of the elements that captivated the fans of O'Brien's other novels are here: exploration of the nature of faith, deep dialogue, extensive character development, and a writing style that makes the reader want to keep on going. Most important, O'Brien demonstrates, through fiction, the beauty of faith and grace. As with Homer's Ulysses, as with Tolkien's Frodo, we carry our wounds, our losses, our beloved ones and encounter the only thing we truly seek and hope for: the eyes of the One who can heal our wounds, embrace our hearts, save our deepest loves.
I highly recommend this book; fans of O'Brien will love it, fans of good Catholic literature will love it, and fans of good literature period will love it. I have already bought 3 more copies to share this amazing book with friends. It will touch you.