I’m pleased to welcome you today to my stop on the blog tour for the incredibly poignant and thought provoking The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaelle Josse. Thank you to Anne Cater and World Editions for giving me the opportunity to read and review this remarkable book.
About the book:
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.
About the author:
Gaëlle 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 vies désaccordées (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.
Translated by Natasha Lehrer:
The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaelle Josse is the remarkable story of Ellis Island, the infamous immigration inspection station that closed its doors for the final time in 1954. Told in a series of poignant diary entries, this is a book that had a hugely profound effect on me, giving me much food for thought as I was held captive by this moving story of love, responsibility, fidelity and remorse.
A devastatingly honest combination of fact and fiction, it tells the tale of John Mitchell, an officer of the Bureau of Immigration and the last resident of the island. Beautifully translated by Natasha Lehrer, the story is brought so vividly to life it almost felt as though I was there amongst the heaving masses of desperate people all searching for a new life.
Looking back over his forty five years as gatekeeper to America and its promise of a better life, John Mitchell recalls the most important moments of his life, including marriage to his beloved wife Liz and a transgression with Nella, a Sardinian immigrant, that has haunted him throughout his life. I have to admit John was not always a character I found easy to like, with some of his choices questionable to say the least.
Finding the words to give this remarkable book the justice it deserves isn’t easy and I’m sure others have managed to do so better than I ever could. But there is no doubt that this is a book of historical significance that people shouldn’t shy away from and is as relevant to the times we live in now as it ever was. It’s so important that what happened all those years ago isn’t forgotten and that we, in the modern world, need to learn from past mistakes that trying to find a better life for yourself and your family isn’t a crime. All any of us ever want is what is best for our loved ones and the many people who passed through Ellis Island were no different. I found this aspect of the story so incredibly moving and, while John Mitchell’s story is a fascinating one that kept me reading long into the night, the desperation of those families (who could quite easily be any of us) searching for a safe haven was so palpable that it has continued to stay with me long after the final page had been read.
There is so much more I could say about The Last Days of Ellis Island, but suffice to say this is a book I think everyone should read. It’s an incredibly poignant and moving read, with twists and turns that took me by surprise, even throwing one last curveball that left me reeling. Gaelle Josse has written an exceptional book that’s rich in history and is a book that I would highly recommend.
The Last Days of Ellis Island is available to purchase from November 24th: Amazon UK
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