Reviews for An island : a novel

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A lonely lighthouse keeper encounters a refugee and a host of uncomfortable memories. At 70, Samuel has grown used to the occasional body of a drowning victim washing ashore, interrupting his existence as the sole occupant of an island off the coast of Africa. The latest arrival, however, is breathing, which brings both comfort and fear. Comfort because the stranger relieves Samuel’s extreme isolation; author Jennings slowly reveals that he spent 23 years in prison under a dictatorship and has been living on the island for more than two decades since. Fear, because the refugee speaks a different language, and though he seems docile, Samuel’s memories of cruelty and violence have reemerged, prompting an intensifying paranoia. In flashbacks, Samuel recalls how his (unnamed) home country escaped colonization only to lapse into a dictatorship and how the turmoil divided his family and brought him into the orbit of activists—and, eventually, prison. In deliberately plainspoken prose, Jennings makes a potent allegory out of Samuel’s relationship with the stranger. Who owns the territory Samuel is on? What does he owe a stranger arriving on it? Where’s the line between an urge to protect and a deranged fear of invasion? (The island itself is a craggy symbol of human nature. As one man told Samuel, “It’s no good trying to tame the island to your will. It will do as it wants.”) Jennings handles these questions supplely, rooting them in Samuel’s character, which deepens as this brief novel goes on. We learn, in time, about his childhood in poverty and a streak of cowardice that’s led to multiple poor decisions. The stormy mood Jennings conjures throughout the novel keeps Samuel’s decision regarding the stranger intriguingly uncertain until the final pages. A stark, efficient, and compelling revision of Robinson Crusoe. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.