Island of the World is set initially in the Balkans in the period during the second World War, just before the rise of Tito. It tells the story of a man growing up in the turbulance of this time and his triumph over horror and loss that would have broken many.
The books starts out with the story of the main character, Josip Lasta's, idyllic childhood and its abrupt end. It is a story of love, loyalty and endurance. It is also a story of faith and miracles. God's hand protects and guides the Josip into a manhood that would stress the psychological and physical fortitude of any.
This might not be a book for very sensitive readers. There are portrayals of extreme violence and degradation; at the same time, this is not gratuitous. It sets the scenes for the book.
The portrayal of Catholicism in this book is very gentle. It is like a beacon for the main character which is at times more visible and less visible. Ultimately, Josip finds his way home.
The history of the beautiful Balkans is complicated and in many cases excruciating. Mr. O'Brien seems to have done his research and portrays history with less bias that is often the case. This writer has the strong sense that there were personal stories involved in the writing of this novel.
Given the size of this book and the period of time it covers, I found the compendium of characters at the back of the book very helpful.
As with so many of Mr. O'Brien's works, this is a meaty book. The vocabulary is well chosen to craft a story that is captivating and sustained. Mr. O'Brien's ability with the paintbrush (he also designs the cover art of his own books and is a painter of some note) carries through into his writing. He illustrates his books with words.
I wrote this review of The Island of the World for the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. Aquinas and More is the largest on-line Catholic bookstore. I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.