Monday 16 November 2020

The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaelle Josse (translated by @NatashaLehrer) BLOG TOUR @WorldEdBooks @RKbookpublicist @RandomTTours #TheLastDaysOfEllisIsland

New York, November 3, 1954. In a few days, the immigration inspection station on Ellis Island will close its doors forever. John Mitchell, an officer of the Bureau of Immigration, is the guardian and last resident of the island. As Mitchell looks back over forty-five years as gatekeeper to America and its promise of a better life, he recalls his brief marriage to beloved wife Liz, and is haunted by memories of a transgression involving Nella, an immigrant from Sardinia. Told in a series of poignant diary entries, this is a story of responsibility, love, fidelity, and remorse. 

The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaelle Josse is published in paperback by World Editions on 10 December 2020 and is translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review for this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour 

I've always been fascinated by immigration; the reasons why people leave their homes to start new lives in places that they may not have visited before. I'm from an Irish background and there's a long, and often brutal history of migration from Ireland and Ellis Island - the gateway to the United States played a huge part in the stories of every person who landed on the shores of America, in the search of a better life.

The Last Days of Ellis Island is a short read at just over two hundred pages, but it is one that has a huge impact on the reader. Gaelle Jose is a poet and that is so abundantly clear in this quite magical story. It's perfectly translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer.

Told in the form of diary entries by John Mitchell, it's an exploration of the mind of a man who isolated himself from people, and from the rest of the US. Mitchell spent his entire working life on Ellis Island, beginning as a lowly clerk and gradually making his way up until he was the man in charge.
Ellis Island is due to close. Immigration procedures have changed over the years, and most probably for the better. There's no more use for the Island and John is the only person left. He's packed up, taken an inventory and now is writing down his innermost thoughts.

John Mitchell is a deep, incredibly complex character and even though the reader only hears from him, and doesn't see the views of other people who may have know him, there's a real feeling of honesty and truth in his words. He certainly doesn't paint himself in the greatest light; recalling sadnesses and regrets over the years. Mitchell is aware that he's behaved badly, he knows that his actions have often shaped the future for other people. He doesn't deny that, however, he doesn't apologise either. He says what he did, and why.

I was entranced by this book and read it in one sitting. Josse captures the absolute terror and fear that the people who arrived at Ellis Island felt. As they are subjected to the twenty-nine questions, knowing that their answers will seal their future, the reader can also feel the anticipation and hope felt, and also the abject despair if their entry is denied. 

John Mitchell makes reference to one particular Italian ship, and its passengers. This particular shipment of people probably had the greatest effect on him, as a person, and as an officer. He did things, and made decisions at this time that are difficult to read and absorb, but add such a depth to this story.

The Last Days of Ellis Island has quite rightly won many awards. Gaelle Josse is an accomplished and talented author. Her story is fiction, but some of her characters did exist. She has taken a place and one man and created a story that outlines the suffering, hope and at times depravity of humankind. 

A story to read and remember by an an author to watch.

Gaelle Josse holds degrees in law, journalism, and clinical psychology. Formerly a poet, she published her first novel, Les Heures silencieuses ('The Quiet Hours'), in 2011.

Josse went on to win several awards, including the Alain Fournier Award in 2013 for Nos vie desaccordees ('Our Out-Of-Tune Lives').

After spending a few years in New Caledonia, she returned to Paris, where she now works and lives.

Josse received the European Union Prize for Literature for The Last Days of Ellis Island, along with the Grand Livre du Mois Literary Prize.

Natasha Lehrer won a Rockower Award for Journalism in 2016, and in 2017 was awarded the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize for her translation of Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Leger.

The exterior of the Ellis Island immigration inspection station in 1907.

Smith Collection/Gado—Getty Images

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