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To the Islands

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3.92  ·  Rating details ·  221 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A work of mesmerising power, against a background of black-white fear and violence, To The Islands journeys towards the strange country of one man's soul. Set in the desolate outback landscape of Australia's north-west, the novel tracks the last days of a worn-out Anglican missionary. Fleeing his mission after an agonising confrontation, he immerses himself in the wilderne ...more
Paperback, 186 pages
Published December 31st 2002 by University of Queensland Pr (Australia) (first published 1958)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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fourtriplezed
Very good and at times remarkable. The final few chapters are a superb read. In this very worthy winner of the 1958 Miles Franklin award we follow Stephen Heriot in his quest to die. Heriot has a head full of fear, guilt and after a life of working on a mission, has reached the end of his ability to have faith in life itself. After an incident at the mission he leaves with Justin, an aboriginal guide and with that fuels his fears and guilt’s to a bitter end.

What adds to the beautiful prose from
...more
Vit Babenco
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
According to the aboriginal beliefs somewhere in the ocean, there are the islands of the dead. The Anglican mission tries to help the aboriginals who prefer to go their own way but sometimes their ways cross… And there, in the mission, is an old, tired of futility and disenchanted in life missionary… And he has more memories than if he’d lived a thousand years
And the mirror was broken, the wooden shutter of the window broken. Broken, broken. He saw himself as a great red cliff, rising from the
...more
Lisa
I read To the Islands for the Classics Challenge which I like to complete using all Australian titles. In this case, the book is also a Miles Franklin winner, taking out the prize in only the second year of the award, and when Randolph Stow was only 22.

In some ways Stow’s novel reminded me of Graham Greene’s writing. There is the same interest in the ambivalent moral issues of the modern world, and the central character Stephen Heriot is a flawed hero, an Anglican missionary worn out by the opp
...more
Tundra
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunning. I felt like I was between the weave of the threads of landscape and Heriot’s mind. The audio of this was so immersive and now I feel like I need to read it again in order to capture the beautiful prose. This book must have been a revelation when it was written with its ‘anti-conquest’ message.
There was also a passage that said something like ‘to believe you need to feel’ which I think profoundly encompasses Heriot’s mental and physical journey into the wilderness.
Jenny Esots
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
What a powerful drama that unfolds here.
The old traditions, the indigenous mission.
The white fellas that seem so withered and tough.
But who are permanently stung out and struggling in this harsh land.
Heriot vs Rex.
A tale of fatalism.
so well told.
The character of Australia that is still so true today.
The metaphors of death, grief and anger all play out here.
Alison
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia, fiction
There is just so much going on in this beautifully written novel. Squint at it one way and you see a Lear-like journey into deathmadness, an allegory for the end of life and service. Look differently and you see an impassioned argument for the communities around missions, those of respect and support. But most powerfully to me, is a simmering undercurrent of horror and fundamental brokenness from the massacre, dispossession and land theft. This is not just because of the detailed description of ...more
Zeus Bruce
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most enjoyable read of the year so far. There's so much control in Stowe's writing. Such beautiful waxing and waning, when to be a poet and when to be a dramatist. The best turn of phrase is one that pivots on a decided plot. And the best line is one that hangs off a good character.

There's a salient moment around 2/3rds of the way when the brightness gets turned up on all the white characters (missionaries and assorted helpers) and we get an inventory of their physical appearances - all in one
...more
Sammy
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"White man always talking and never listening" [said Justin].
"I'm sorry," said Heriot humbly.
"Whatever you say to white man, he always got something else to say. Always got to be the last one."
"We call it conversation", Heriot said, and bit his lip as soon as the words were out.


A bleak, atmospheric work, meditating on the relationship between white and black in Australia, between colonists and those they sought to colonise. "We're all lost here", says Heriot, the protagonist. And Stow - although
...more
James Perkins
Jun 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Stephen Heriot, old white man and about to retire, goes bonkers in a mission for indigenous Australians in north-western Australia and wanders off into the countryside to kill himself. That's the plot, in a nutshell. Granted, it's sometimes poetic, describing the harsh Australilan wilderness in a sparse, lyrical prose. Granted, it paints indigenous people as real, human, and compassionate, very unlike the popular caricature that the target audience for this book, the average 1950s white Australi ...more
Text Publishing
‘To the Islands is a deeply moving and compassionate novel whose message and wisdom is still important today, which is why it deserves to be recognised as an important work of Australian literature.’
theconversation.com

‘To the Islands is a masterpiece.’
ANZ LitLovers

‘Powerful and convincing…An Australian classic.’
Anthony J. Hassall


‘It is a rare pleasure for those of us who are already fans to have these works at our disposal…[Stow was] the most talented and celebrated Australian author of the pos
...more
Michelle
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
It was ... ok?
Bec D
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am giving it 4 stars not because it isn’t a masterpiece but because it’s not my “cup of tea”. I don’t really enjoy reading books about social injustice. But it’s an important book to read nevertheless. And I am glad I read it. It deals with the wicked problems existing in post-colonial Australia. This book was published in 1958 and it is remarkable for its time, particularly in its wisdom: the ideas that we need to forgive the unforgivable to be able to move on; and when we wound one person it ...more
Dan Sherrell
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Felt really complicatedly about this book. Written in the 1950s, To The Islands tries and fails to transcend its own racism, much like its white protagonist Heriot. Though the aboriginal characters are fully spherical, relatively distinct, and generally sympathetic (rare, as I understand it, for white portrayals of indigenous Australians in the 50s) there is a higher order prejudice that never really loses its grip, a kind of paternalism that lends all narrative agency to the white characters an ...more
Jayden McComiskie
Ok. It took me three goes to finish this book. Not because it was bad, but because it had so much potential, that every now and then I read something awful and had throw it, stamp and yell in disbelief. When I read the opening, I assumed I was in for an amazing read:

"A child dragged a stick along the corrugated iron wall of a hut, and Harriot woke and found the morning standing at his bed like a valet, holding out his daylight self to be put on again, his name, his age, his vague and wearing occ
...more
A.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
"If this novel retains any interest ... it may be because this story of an old man is really about a certain stage in the life of a sort of young man who has always been with us, and always will be."

--Randolph Stow, preface to the revised edition
Bethan
Aug 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dissertation
although i’m not sure how useful this will be for my diss, it was still a good read. very epic in its scope and of a decidedly different tone than the other books i’ve read. it’s not my favourite, but it was certainly very good.
Bialey
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Written in the 1950's and published when the author was just 22, this thought provoking novel is set in an aboriginal church mission in the Kimberleys in far north west Australia.
Powerful and moving, a worthy winner of the Miles Franklin award. I'm looking forward to reading his other novels.
Tracie Griffith
Jul 24, 2017 rated it liked it
I know Stow won a major award for this book at an early age, but I was so glad I had read Tourmaline first. Tourmaline was so masterful in comparison - having been written at a much later age. Very interesting to see the development in the writer.
Alex Kelly
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent story and imagery of the Aussie outback. What one takes away from this book will differ greatly. I enjoyed the thought provoking snippets which seem as though they make as much sense today.
Michael
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strange and beautiful book. Stow was a prodigy. His natural description is enchanting, his vision of Australian society stark, and his characters are attractive and human.
Johanna Botman
Dec 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Most of us know Randolf Stow for Merrygo Round in the Sea. Very few of us have read anything else,, and I would have been part of that crew until recently. But I bet that Tim Winton has read him - there's a certain similarity of theme in Dirt Music.

Essentially a road story both geographical and internal that leads a man into the wilds of the Kimberley Region of WA. It has held it's age quite well.

Reading this was part of a project I set myself in 2004 – to read all the Miles Franklin Award Winne
...more
Claire Melanie
Aug 26, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
How people can think it's ok to write books like this let alone label them as "classics" when they're filled with racist colonial tropes posing as insightful truths is beyond me. All it tells the reader about Aboriginal people is how shameful and deeply problematic White behaviours and attitudes have been over the centuries since invasion.
larahsk
Feb 22, 2013 rated it liked it
a small book with big themes
Jon Doust
Aug 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
It took me so long to get to Randolph, but it was worth the wait.
Jennine
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it!
Les Frances
Aug 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Effortless reading. Perfect writing.
Cbsd library
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May 23, 2016
Bob Segrave
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Feb 15, 2019
El Nargun
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Dec 14, 2014
Kate
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Jul 05, 2016
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Born in Geraldton, Western Australia, Randolph Stow attended Geraldton Primary and High schools, Guildford Grammar School, the University of Western Australia, and the University of Sydney. During his undergraduate years in Western Australia he wrote two novels and a collection of poetry, which were published in London by Macdonald & Co. He taught English Literature at the University of Adelaide, ...more

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