The Islands by Emily Brugman – Our Review
Emily Brugman draws on her own family history to evoke the hard, and at times tragic, lives of the immigrant Finnish crayfishers who ventured out to the remote Easter Group of islands off the coast of Geraldton, WA in the 1950s and 60s.
Brugman’s grandparents were among the first families to establish themselves seasonally on Little Rat Island, enduring the extremes of weather that brought everything from cyclones to sapping heat.
This intergenerational saga follows the lives of the Saari family, beginning with Onni and Alva, then their daughter Hilda and her daughter Riitta.
It is a novel full of astute observations about family, love and our interaction with the environment. But it is in Brugman’s descriptions of the harsh landscape of the islands – both on land and on water – that her writing really sings.
Her evocation of setting and her cleverly drawn characters will pull you into the lives of the Saari family. There are echoes of Hannah Kent in the framing of her characters and of Tim Winton in the way she grounds the story in the wild Western Australian coast.
We feel the family’s sense of disorientation in this new world, so different from their native Finland – and also the gradual eroding of their culture as Hilda, and later Riitta, adopt the attitudes and lifestyles of the only country they have known, Australia.
This is Emily Brugman’s first novel and she is definitely a writer to watch.
Review by Mark Smith @ Great Escape Books