The Islands by Emily Brugman

Published: 2022 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Allen & Unwin 3. Houtman Abrolhos Coral. Painting by William Saville-Kent (1894) [Public Domain] via Wikipedia 4. Houtman map 1897 [Public Domain] via Wikipedia

Alva and Onni are Finnish immigrants living on Little Rat Island in the Abrolhos Islands in the 1950s, and make their living crayfishing. Their daughter Hilda is born and they enjoy the freedom of the islands. When Hilda reaches school-age, Alva and Hilda move to Geraldton, and they find it hard to settle there. The story continues as Hilda grows up to make a life of her own.

“A shard of island that may disappear at any time in the waters of a rising sea.”

This is a story that is obviously dear to the author’s heart, inspired by her Finnish grandparents’ story. As Books and Publishing comments: “The Islands is an accomplished debut with a big heart.”  This reader enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the setting. Sydney Morning Herald agrees: “Brugman’s writing is infused with a sense of place: coral cays, seals, the sheer love of the ocean”. This story tells about a little-known part of Australia’s history – the Finnish immigrants who made their living by catching crayfish in the Abrolhos Islands in the 1950s. Sydney Morning Herald thinks that “Debuts can be dubious, but this one promises to launch a stellar career”.


For Alva, trying to interpret the strange drawling English of Australians was like being on one side of a thick stone wall while a conversation took place on the other side.”

Twenty-one corrugated-iron camps now lined the island’s eastern flank, from which a series of topsy-turvy jetties extended like fractured finger bones. It resembled a small, ramshackle village.”

“Each day Alva would walk along the rocky perimeter of Little Rat with Hilda wrapped tight and slung across her chest. She scanned the ground, looking for small treasures. A knob of dried coral to sit on the windowsill, an abalone shell in which to place the soap. A splinter of driftwood, its surface rubbed smooth by the water, on which she wrote ‘Little Rat Island, April 1960’, before putting it next to the coral fragment.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s