In the mid-1950s, a small group of Finnish migrants set up camp on Little Rat, a tiny island in an archipelago off the coast of Western Australia. The crayfishing industry is in its infancy, and the islands, haunted though they are by past shipwrecks, possess an indefinable allure.
Drawn here by tragedy, Onni Saari is soon hooked by the stark beauty of the landscape, and the slivers of jutting coral onto which the crayfishers build their precarious huts. Could these reefs, teeming with the elusive and lucrative cray, hold the key to a good life?
The Islands is the sweeping story of the Saari family: Onni, an industrious and ambitious young man, grappling with the loss of a loved one; his wife Alva, quiet but stoic, seeking a sense of belonging between the ramshackle camps of the islands and the dusty suburban lots of the mainland; and their pensive daughter Hilda who dreams of becoming the skipper of her own boat. As the Saari’s try to build their future in Australia, their lives entwine with those of the fishing families of Little Rat, in myriad and unexpected ways.
Longlisted for the Indie Book Awards 2023 (Debut Fiction category)
Shortlisted for the MUD Literary Award 2023
Praise for The Islands
Brugman writes with acuity and immense joie de vivre. Debuts can be dubious, but this one promises to launch a stellar career. Sydney Morning Herald/The Age
Brugman has made us care for these hardy people, whose lives she inhabits with curiosity and affection. If we thought we knew the whole story of European immigration to Australia, The Islands extends our horizon in yet another fascinating direction. The Guardian
Every now and then, a book stops you because of its difference: an unexpected plot, captivating and convincing characters, or a structure that surprises. Emily Brugman's debut novel, The Islands, delivers on all three. The Canberra Times
“There is an other-worldly quality about the Abrolhos which is beyond the reach of ordinary storytelling. Emily Brugman has captured them, staked them to the page in all their isolation and aridity and scoured indifference, because her storytelling is extraordinary.” Jock Serong
“Beautiful, fresh, wise and true — startlingly good.” Robert Drewe
The story behind The Islands
The Islands is inspired by my family’s experiences living and working on the Abrolhos Islands between 1959 – 1972. While I have not had the pleasure of calling the Abrolhos home, the islands have existed in my family’s collective imagination for many years. My grandfather, a newly arrived migrant from Finland, began crayfishing off Little Rat Island in 1959. Read more here
I grew up in Broulee, on the far south coast of NSW, on the lands of the Yuin people. I currently live in Mullumbimby, on Bundjalung country, and work at Byron Writers Festival. The Islands is my first novel.