Originally published in 2002 in German, and winner of multiple German and French book awards, Armin Greder’s The Island is now available in English. While this picture book might be disturbing for the very young, it is an allegory that can be appreciated by all ages (the publisher indicates 8-18). It only takes a few minutes to read, but leaves you contemplating its implications and greater meanings.
This is the story of an island where some big, angry, racist people live simple, everyday lives, loving the routine and normalcy of it. When a strange looking man arrives in a shoddy raft, the natives see that he is different from them and immediately despise him, trapping him in a goat pen, hiding him away and ignoring him, going back to their lives. Then one day he comes to them, asking for food, and they are shocked and horrified. They think about who should take care of him, but no one wants him, thinking that he will destroy whatever he touches. Eventually he is put back on his shoddy raft and sent out to sea. They build a giant wall around the island, protecting them from the outside world and people who aren’t the same, as well as killing any birds that come to the island, so that it will never be discovered by anyone else.
On the surface it is an unusual short story, but it would be little more to an alien who knows nothing of the history of humanity. For all of us who were born on this planet, this story of hate for anyone different is an all too familiar one that has had many horrific chapters in our history. It is also sadly a reality that continues in our world today. With hard, charcoal-colored, sharp-edged images that evoke Edvard Munch’s The Scream as well as the music video to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” The Island is a story that will be read and reread, as a commentary on humanity’s failings.
Originally written on April 25th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.