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The Island of the World

4.65 of 5 stars 4.65  ·  rating details  ·  503 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Island of the World is the story of a child born in 1933 into the turbulent world of the Balkans and tracing his life into the third millennium. The central character is Josip Lasta, the son of an impoverished school teacher in a remote village high in the mountains of the Bosnian interior. As the novel begins, World War II is underway and the entire region of Yugoslavia i ...more
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Published October 1st 2009 by Ignatius Press (first published November 15th 2007)
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This is an extremely intense novel. Michael O'Brien has a knack for writing books that change the reader. This book is a marvelous, painful, and redemptive look at how love and suffering are two sides of one coin. He seems to capture the most sublime love and also the most unimaginable suffering, and somehow pack them into one character and make us understand how all of this could really exist in the history of one person. By the grace of God, suffering does not blot love out of his heart. This ...more
I think if I were a knight, I would be called "Sir Helen, Devourer of Books." Gone with the Wind? Read that baby in two days. The Heaven Tree Trilogy? I liked that one a lot more, so I slowed down... and still finished all three books in as many days. My point is, I read fast. There's nothing wrong with that, most of the time. And then, about a month ago, I went to college. It's hard to just sit down and read, when at any given moment three essays need writing and there's a test day after tomorr ...more
Paul Elie, in his essay, "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?" (New York Times, December 23, 2012) asked who are the writers today of serious spiritual content, and several persons wrote letters pointing out serious shortcomings in Elie's piece.

I would add one more writer, Michael D. O'Brien (who might have been omitted because Elie was writing about American fiction, whereas O'Brien is Canadian).

First of all, take a look at how many stars this book received, both on this site and on Amazon-dot-com. Eit
The _Island of the World_ is not reached by swimming the shallows. This is a book with depth and pathos, a tale of a Croatian who suffered unspeakable horrors and loss as the winds of war engulfed his country. An 800+ page tome, the lengthy story begins in 1933, painting the picture of the idyllic and remote mountain village into which Josip Lasta is born. The author takes great pains not to sweep over this happy season quickly, imbedding vivid scenes of Josip's simple and wholesome childhood de ...more
Borrowed from a Library. Hope to own.

This book is beautiful beyond words. Painful, excruciating at times. But even there the words are beautiful.

Joy, infinite joy. Sadness, deep sadness. It will make you think. I can't review such a book.

(view spoiler)
Cindy Rollins
Beautifully written novel which could be titled The Odyssey of Josip Lasta. My most respected friends had urged this book on me for years but in the end I see that Providence kept the book waiting for me.

I learned much about happiness, personal fulfillment, and forgiveness from this poetic novel. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Once again Homer provides THE outline. I hope to one day see the Adriatic.

I did not give this book 5 stars. There is a 5-star book within these 850 pages but a
Wow... a monstrosity of a book (Clan of the Cave Bear size!). And it sucked me in, with its story of a quaint Bosnian mountain village torn apart by war and the boy who made it out, denounced God and traveled to Croatia (He was a Croat living in Bosnia). Lovely story, lovely imagery- thoroughly enjoyable. But in the first few pages I realized that the MAIN story was about losing one's Catholic religion and finding it again. And I was OK with that, since I love Elie Wiesel for the same topic. BUT ...more
Island of the World cannot be described in any other way than the story of a soul – Josip Lasta. And what a beautiful soul it is! Josip's life is categorized by suffering. It appears as if all the powers in the world are working against him in some way. He can turn nowhere without enduring pain, loss, or misfortune. I know those words aren't the best way to sell a novel, but if that seems off-putting, I would offer this note before you begin reading:

O'Brien begins by allowing his readers to fall
Lori Hendrickson
There aren't enough stars to rate this book highly enough. It is in my top 3 all time favorites (possibly #1). The main character, Josip Lasta, is still with me, long after I turned the last page. He is like a brother or even a son that I have loved deeply and lost. The author, Michael O'Brien took the most tender care of me, as a reader, while I stood witness to the many hardships and unspeakable horrors wrought by the evil that dwells in and around mankind here on earth. I was inspired and enc ...more
4/23/2010 - Such a beautiful novel. I felt so many emotions throughout this beautiful story. I never want an O'Brien novel to end...this one more-so than any other. Easily one of the best stories I've ever read. Michael O'Brien is without question, the greatest Catholic novelist alive. Buy it and have your hair blown back - you'll never forget this book.

12/7/11 - updated review. Just wanted to add, after reading all O'Brien novels to date - this is his greatest work. Over a year and half has pas
Amanda Lamb
There are your favorite books, the ones you read over and over again and you think of them fondly, like friends. And there are the best books you've ever read, the ones that stay with you even if you only read them once. The best books transcend barriers. The best books challenge and change the way you view your life and the world.

The Island of the World is one of, if not THE, best book I have ever read. And I imagine, despite it's mammoth size, it will be reread many times over the years and ma
Stephanie Seefeldt
#1 most moving and important fiction I've ever read. Characters were so perfectly written that I found myself Googling them to see if they were real. More soon.
Jeremy Barker
So I have fallen into a pattern with my book reviews of beginning by sharing the publisher’s product description first and then sharing my thoughts or summary of the book afterward. I feel like I should break from that pattern for this one. I will include it below if you want to read it here.

This book is of a different style than many that I have typically read. My wife had it recommended to her and I got to experience watching her read it. She was completely enthralled with the book (read her r
What mostly amazes me in this astonishing book is the fact that a Canadian has so profound understanding of history of Croatian people throughout previous century. If a Croat would write such a book many would say it's propaganda. I hope it's easier to accept this book from a non-Croat as truthful account of sufferings that Croatian people went through and are still going through enduring external violence so crafty that it achieve not only external goals, but it can influence the very soul of m ...more
Fr. Ryan Humphries
Jun 21, 2012 Fr. Ryan Humphries rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially those struggling with something.
O'Brien had me from hello so to speak. I've re-read Fr. Elijah six times. Island started slowly. It was hard to read - not in the language - but in the story of the life of Josep Lasta. It's the best kind of gritty sanctity. This book took the best of Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene and Walker Percy and put them a compelling historical fiction that has the potential to change someone's entire outlook on the world. It's a master thesis on the virtue of Hope that I won't be ready to re-read for a ...more
What a moving and powerful novel! Like the dolphin, a motif of this book, the plot goes up and down constantly through the consolations and great desolations of Josip Lasta's life. This book is about the constant call to good and the vulnerability to evil, the spiritual struggle of a human soul. Truly, Island of the World is evidence of O'Brien's masterful storytelling craft, as he weaves even prose into beautiful poetry.



His hand is upon it all, the damaged and the undamaged. We mus
I wish I could give this book 6 stars, it was so amazing. Historical, spiritual, poetical - the scenes of the story will remain with me forever. This has become one of my favorite books of all time.
This is another excellent novel by O'Brien. In this one, he follows of a Croatian born in 1933 from boyhood (during World War II) up until shortly before his death (probably sometime in 2006). During this time, he experiences great loves and hard losses. O'Brien pierces to the heart of his suffering and makes it accessible to everyone. Reading this book, you see that O'Brien understands suffering and also sees its redemptive value. Josip Lasta is not just a suffering soul, but a soul whose suffe ...more
The Island of the World is the life story of Josip Lasta. Born in 1933 in the Croatian Balkans he survives WWII and the Communist years. It is essentially about how he loses his Catholic faith, regains it, and forgives his enemies.It sounds like one of those slightly depressing "good" books that we feel like we have to give a good review, but it isn't. I honestly enjoyed reading this book. With most 850 page books there always comes a time when I need to take a break from it, but this book was ...more
Andrew Armstrong
Great stuff! A bit long, but O'Brien has a very nice style... A quick read for all its 800+ pages!
I feel bad rating this book with the others since it deserves more stars than I can bestow.
Marie Turner
I think it is the best book I have ever read
This book will change you.
i happened to come across this book after doing a search for a really good fiction book- i tend to be very picky. i was amazed at all the positive reviews both on amazon and on good reads. i decided to buy it without reading any reviews, not quite understanding what the book was about, and not knowing it was 800 pages long.

if youre looking for a book that you can soak in. be drawn into depths of mystery, theology, pain, suffering, friendship, love, loss. this is worth reading, this is a novel.
Bryana Johnson
It took me a little while to realize that I do like this book and then a little longer to realize just how much I like it. However, since it’s 838 pages long, I had plenty of time in which to make those decisions. The Island of the World is a novel about one man, but written in epic form to illustrate the way that all our lives are epics in themselves. The Odyssey is referenced frequently and provides a backdrop for the book, which draws heavily on the beautiful theme of nostos, the homeward jou ...more
Despite this book's 800+ pages, my immediate impulse upon finishing it was to flip to the beginning and start again. The depth in the prose (and also the poetry interwoven throughout the story) surprised me. The protagonist, whom we meet as an introspective, insightful young boy, grows up to be an intellectual adult, whose discussions and debates are fascinating asides to the plot. Throughout the book he grows spiritually, and by the end I felt I should be taking notes during his reflections on ...more
Rebekah Pringle
"I think the real challenge for the poet is to distinguish between his tendencies to genuine creative intuition and the impulses of the self-centered ego"

"How does he do that?"

"By seeking to understand himself without falling into the trap of self-obsession. By suffering. And most of all by loving."

"Love?" Caleb rolls his eyes.

"Yes, Caleb, love. Love costs. It always costs. Sometimes it costs everything"

(pp. 647-48)

Intense, beautiful story that illustrates this definition/artistic principle in
The pages just flew by on this amazingly beautiful and absorbing story of the Balkans in the 20th century, told through the eyes of Josip, born in 1933. Beautiful meditations on encountering Christ in those around us, amazing imagery, and wonderful discussion of faith and the sacramental life. The thing that pulled it down from being a five star read is that it is *very* Croatian, and as such anti-Serb, and that the author had a bit of a tendency to veer into polemics. However, these slight quib ...more
I read this book which was recommended in WORLD Magazine several years ago. The story which follows a young child through the Balkan conflict was absorbing. I took a while to read it because of the terrible things that happened to him. What I remember is the clear picture of our sovereign God who redeems great evil by producing good fruit in an individual soul
Dark content for pages on end. Just when there seems to be a bit of light, the other shoe drops. I understand that this book was intended to portray man's ability to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix against all odds, however, I find myself cringing and losing hope. I am half way through 800 plus pages, so I will post again when I finish the book entirely.

Read another 150 pages and I am drowning in despair. Please, a little light and hope soon. I do not understand how people can say they love
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Michael D. O'Brien is a Roman Catholic author, artist, and frequent essayist and lecturer on faith and culture, living in Combermere, Ontario, Canada.
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