Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Black Isle” as Want to Read:
The Black Isle
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Black Isle

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  711 ratings  ·  162 reviews
There are ghosts on the Black Isle.
Ghosts that no one can see.
No one...except Cassandra.

Uprooted from Shanghai with her father and twin brother, young Cassandra finds the Black Isle's bustling, immigrant-filled seaport, swampy jungle, and grand rubber plantations a sharp contrast to the city of her childhood. And she soon makes another discovery: the Black Isle is swarmi
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Grand Central Publishing (first published January 1st 2012)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Black Isle, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Black Isle

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.47  · 
Rating details
 ·  711 ratings  ·  162 reviews

More filters
Sort order
I was floored with THE BLACK ISLE from the second I started reading it. Written in a voice that's so incredibly engaging that you can't take your eyes from the page, it sucks you into an old world China where women are barely second class citizens and, depending on your status, superstition rules your life.

Cassandra goes through an epic transformation throughout the book. The story starts with Cassandra as an old woman both running from and to her past. She relives the world of her island throug
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What first intrigued me about this book is its paranormal element. I don’t often read much historical fiction unless it either comes highly recommended or the defined plot is irresistibly alluring – choosing Sandi Tan’s debut novel presented the latter element.

I’m amazed by how deeply I was absorbed in a novel which considered such a range of topics I’ve never deliberately explored. To be engrossed by Cassandra’s haunting past and seized by events rooted in Asian culture verifies the author’s s
May 14, 2012 added it
Shelves: dnf
While The Black Isle is absolutely beautifully written, some of the content is just not for me.

The story is intriguing, it's a dark and dramatic tale of a woman haunted by the dead. The pacing is great, it moves gracefully. The characters are all interesting and well written.

My problem is the sexual situations. I am not a prude, by any means, and have read some rather racy books in the past. However, some of the situations in this book were just so not appealing in any way to me and they were r
Nov 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library, hachette

Let's just call a spade a spade. The Black Isle is pretty much Singapore transmogrified into something unrecognizable, but still familiar. it is unfortunate but thic book comes across as a mish-mash of historic, fantasy and magic realism, with altered realism winning out in the end.

As a resident of the 'Black Isle', as Sandi once was, I have to say this is a mess of what could have been a really interesting book. She could not decide if she was going for an alternate history or ghost story or
Well. I really hate calling it quits but this is just not grabbing me at all. I had full intentions of setting it aside for now and coming it back to it at a later date but I happened to stumble upon someone's conversation about the book and 'octopus sex' came up. And they weren't talking about two octopodes (Yes. That's octopus plural. I looked that shit up. See?) going at it. Humans were involved. And all interest flew out the window.
#note: i'm quite surprised that people actually read my midnight review that was riddled with grammatical errors.. lol. Even I can't make sense of what I wrote.

Truth to be told. This 90th book of my reading challenge that made the most lasting impact in all my days of 2012's reading. First of all, because the story is set in a place and in a time settings that I was (naturally) familiar with. Second, I was familiar with the characterizations and understand the ravages that plague the characters
Karen Miller
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing

She's an old Asian woman who lives by routine - making weekly visits to the store, to the laundry, doing what old women do.

Most important, she goes to the archive section of the library every Saturday to visit the book - the book that contained her photograph, surrounded by a story filled with lies but that revealed one truth: She can communicate with ghosts.
Then, one Saturday she finds the book she's been quietly visiting for decades has been vandalized. Most of the pages have been torn out. In
Sep 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
I wish I had a way with words because my reviews never fully convey my awe. THE BLACK ISLES, a novel by Sandi Tan has left my wordless. I honestly can't describe how thoroughly it drew me in; I felt like I was living in turn of the century Asia -- on a small island trying to decide who it was -- trying to decide who I was. I was completely engrossed by the Asian culture.

BLACK ISLES, was told in two point of views, an old woman recording her life story and the young woman herself. While the story
Aug 14, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Burned by the discount section once again. I should have stopped reading when a member of my book club posted a bad rating. A clearer sign there couldn't be.

I was drawn to this book by the premise - a girl who can see ghosts promises a story of the supernatural - and the setting was intriguing as well. I was curious too hear more of the cultural significance of ghosts in the Chinese setting - the superstitions, the belief system, etc. Unfortunately this was not to be.

I have no idea where the aut
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am an eclectic reader. I also love *well-written* paranormal stories of which there are maybe five - ever. This is in that list. I bought it at Kobo for the $4.99 offer, the same as a previous reviewer. I thought it would be mediocre at best. Wow - what a very pleasant surprise. I bought it last night and am now 1/3 through (according to my Kobo app).

Can't wait to finish it.... but I suspect I will miss it incredibly when I am done.

Great job Sandi Tan! Looking forward to more intriguing novels
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I was attracted to this title because it was described as a ghost story, and I LOVE ghost stories. The Kindle sample started with a lot of mystery revealed by an elderly woman who had apparently led an extraordinary life and now believes she is being erased from history. There have been undeniable "signs" that something significant is going to happen very soon, and then she starts getting the phone calls. Is she just paranoid? Is she hallucinating? She finally allows the mysterious caller who ha ...more
Mikko Karvonen
A ghost story that loses touch with its own ghosts - The Black Isle starts out strong, but fizzles out badly.

The Black Isle tracks the story of Cassandra, a Chinese girl who learns at early age that unlike most people, she can see ghosts. This gift, along with some family drama and historical events, takes her to the Black Isle (an approximation of historical Singapore) and ties her into the fate of the island and its inhabitants. It's a powerful foundation and helps to build a captivating first
Anahi Baca
Apr 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
When I started this book, I was immediately drawn in by the premise of an old woman who is being "erased from history books" by an unknown person, for some mysterious reason having to do with ghosts. Then suddenly, the story gets weird and ridiculous, and you have no idea what you signed yourself up for.

The plot turns into a long, rambling yarn with ghosts, demons, bizarre sex scenes, Malaysian history, and World War II stuff, all told by a completely unsympathetic character that you are in no
Nicki Markus
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-historical
This was an interesting tale, blending historical fiction with a hint of the paranormal, set against the backdrop of war and conflict. Tan managed to set the scene beautifully and there was a great sense of place throughout the novel that really contributed to the atmosphere.

Cassandra is a wonderful character. Clearly flawed, she still inspires sympathy and comes across as very real and believable. Her interaction with the other characters is well done and the dialogue is fluid and engaging.

Nov 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Be warned: if you are looking for a conventional story about a young girl finding her way in a nascent country, you are going to be getting way more than that if you pick up this book. This is a strange but intriguing story, and it's not always a pretty one. Along the way, there are gruesome scenes, such as brushes of incest and one instance of bestiality. But for all its strange scenes, this is a complex, puzzling, and eloquent story of a hodgepodge of people coming together to form a nation, a ...more
Nov 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I have a mixed review on this book and I am not too sure whether it was the book for me or it just kind of felt flat. The first half of the book was interesting -- I liked how there was drama and I really felt the thrill of Cassandra's gift of seeing ghosts. I thought the first half was epic until she was held hostage and the story kind of just died from there. I thought it became draggy and random situations came up that didn't seem to fit in the story. I was pretty disappointed of the fact tha ...more
Jennifer Juo
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This novel is part spirit world/fantasy and part historical fiction, set in colonial pre-WWII Singapore (or "the Black Isle" as the author refers to it). The story centers on young Cassandra, a poverty-stricken immigrant from Shanghai, who must survive in a shantytown Singapore, while fending off ghosts in every corner. Against the backdrop of an island in transformation (war, Japanese occupation, independence, modernization), she gradually learns to use her spiritual powers, although others try ...more
Liza Nahas
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is one of those all-absorbing, sweeping sagas that draws the reader in right away and does not let go. While some situations are uncomfortable & unsettling, the plight of the impoverished and the brutality of war are explicitly detailed in these scenes. The characters, both living & dead, are so vividly written they will swirl around in your head & stay with you for days. As with much Asian-themed literature, the incorporation of a supernatural element is natural and plays a sig ...more
Jee Koh
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sandi Tan's The Black Isle is a ripping read. A highly inventive, sexualized, gruesome take on Singapore history narrated by a protagonist who is part Katniss Everdeen, part Holly Golightly, and part Sansa Stark. It's a combination that should not work, but it does, grippingly, as Ling the Shanghainese innocent grows up in the course of the novel to become the troublemaking Pandora and then the seer and victim Cassandra. There are some cliches of expression, but the skillful storytelling carried ...more
More like a 2.5 rating.

This book has so many different and mixed reviews that I really don't want to write a long rant about it. It seems that you either love or hate the story and well... it just didn't work for me.

I recall the first pages completely caught my attention and was very thrilled to read the book -a story set in the early 1930s starting in a cosmopolitan China and moving in Asia, with a mysterious woman as a main character, who loves books and apparently has faced the desire of so
Lily at Bookluvrs Haven
Review originally featured on Bookluvrs Haven

To say that this is one of the darkest novels I have ever read is not saying enough. This story IS DARK!! And though very intriguing and mystical, also incredibly depressing.

Though I try not to do this as a rule, I did browse some of the reviews on Goodreads for this title. There was a real mixture of reactions which made me even more curious to read this. Some readers were really turned off by some of the content, such as scenes of incest, and some
Holly P
The Black Isle caught my interest because of the setting of Asia during WWII and the promise of a good ghost story. The book is totally not what I was expecting. It begins with the introduction of an old woman who visits her library and checks out a certain book as a way to revisit her unusual past. On one such visit she realizes that her beloved book has been vandalized and upon receiving calls from a persistent professor intent on discovering the old woman's history, she learns that her book i ...more
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This has become especially close to my heart; for the first time I'm reading something about home that isn't straightforwardly appraising, reactionary or recitative. It is first and foremost story, an enchanting tale that is imaginative and historical. It is plot and details first before it is anything else.

Its delicate balance of the real and unreal is its true spark - each to the other is meat and bone. The magical realism, characters and ghosts are fictional, but context gives them a map to m
Aug 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
I don't usually read books with supernatural or horror themes, but the historical aspect of this book drew my interest. It had a fairly strong start, and the writing seemed pretty good at first, with great attention to detail and vivid imagery. However, that strong start and writing style didn't continue, and it soon started to lack something.

The writing seemed to drop a lot of the fine detail and quality, and the plot started jumping ahead very quickly, without explaining a lot of the jumps or
Jan 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Although I've read my share of strange books, so far none compares to this one. It has ghosts, history, sex, racism, Facism, incest, paranormal, mysticism, you name it and it's in this book. It covers the 1920's to the 1960's most of the story occurs on an Equatorial island between South China Sea and the Malacca Straights called Black Isle. It starts old China, and where superstition is a way of life. The author reels you with an innocent voice and before you realize it you are hooked, in a do ...more
Madeline Dahlman
May 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: asian-themes
A very well written book but INCREDIBLY intense...Overall, the story is sweeping, dark, gothic, and gritty...It's largely set during the Japanese occupation of WWII..the main character can see the ghosts of those who are searching for closure and revenge in their deaths...she also becomes involved with the Japanese colonial that destroys her family...incidents of incest and beastiality that are VERY difficult to read... as the story covers approximately 80 years, it's difficult to summerize... T ...more
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sandi Tan is a wonderful writer. Her historical detail and her portrayal of "Cassandra" have authenticity and compassion. While I do not believe in ghosts, having never seen one, her use of their presence makes sense because it is a record of past sufferings. It is not gimmicky, and the ghosts themselves do not try to frighten: their presence reflects the impotence, the hope, the frustrations that life, and its loss, can bring.

I have not yet finished her work, but find it a compelling read.
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Incredibly intense and somewhat difficult read but quite exciting. Always troubled by stories of pontianaks - it has been a while since I have read a ghost story so this was a good change for me. Set in a familiar environment of a South East Asian island full of all the folklore and superstitions I was happy to be able to support Sandi Tan's debut novel. I did not quite fully understand the conclusion but it warrants some more thought and I am sure I will find the closure. Wonderful imagery and ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I had bought this many months ago as a promotion on my kobo and forgot about it. This was surprisingly good novel. Set initially in China then quickly moves off to The Black Isle (not sure if this is a real place or not as my knowledge of China and it's history is extremely limited,) where a young girl is forced to fend for herself first on a rubber plantation than through the occupation of Japan. Many twists and turns and a lovely ending.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Chinese Whiskers
  • Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves and Ghosts: 25 Classic Stories of the Supernatural
  • The Serpent's Children (Golden Mountain Chronicles, #1)
  • A Different  Sky
  • The Door Behind Us
  • Steamfunk!
  • All Woman and Springtime
  • Out In The Army: My Life As A Gay Soldier
  • Hold It 'Til It Hurts
  • Hannah's Winter
  • By Love Possessed
  • Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War
  • An Echo Through the Snow
  • Water Ghosts
  • The Tapestries
  • Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic
  • Who Is Frances Rain?
  • Lili
See similar books…
Sandi Tan has an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University. Before turning to fiction, she was a journalist and filmmaker. Her writing has appeared in the Straits Times (Singapore), the New York Times, LA Weekly, and the CalArts literary journal Black Clock. THE BLACK ISLE (2012) is her debut novel. She has an essay in the Lonely Planet food anthology A FORK IN THE ROAD (December 2013) and is ...more
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »