The Last Days of Ellis Island Summary and Reviews

The Last Days of Ellis Island

by Gaëlle Josse

The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse X
The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse
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Book Summary

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.

Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Josse powerfully evokes the spirit of the 'huddled masses' who landed on America's shores while creating a memorable portrait of a man torn between his commitment to his difficult job and the longings of his heart. Duty and desire clash in the melancholy reminiscences of a former Ellis Island immigration officer." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Josse's powerful work finds the human heart within a career bureaucrat." - Publishers Weekly

"Gripping…The Last Days of Ellis Island is an absorbing novel in which beloved dreams are fast to shatter." - Foreword Reviews

"Gaëlle Josse visits Ellis Island and constructs an intimate, collective geography, the story of one man intertwined with those of thousands of others. She rejects exaggeration and pathos, instead embracing the joy of invention and facing the crudeness of what happened head-on." - Transfuge (France)

"It's always somewhat pointless to attempt categorization, especially in the impalpable and subjective domain of artistic creation. However, can't we call The Last Days of Ellis Island the most beautiful text Gaëlle Josse has ever written, one in which the alchemy of the preceding ones reaches, on a completely different subject, a kind of completion?" - La Croix (France)

"I devoured this gem of a novel, which manages to perfectly capture both a singular moment in time and an entire universe of hope, longing and heartbreak. Brilliantly constructed and beautifully told, The Last Days of Ellis Island is a timeless—and timely—exploration of compassion and regret." - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest

"Intimate, alluring and at times haunting, The Last Days of Ellis Island imagines the closing hours of Ellis Island's existence as a gateway for the hopeful through the eyes of its last caretaker. Josse examines with care how life, no matter where you spend it, is a weave of wonderful moments and sad ones; moments we are insanely grateful for and moments we wish with everything within that we could take back. Eloquently and skillfully rendered." - Susan Meissner, bestselling author of A Fall of Marigolds

"The Last Days of Ellis Island is a tragic story of a man who spends forty-five years working as an immigration official on Ellis island. Josse masterfully weaves this moving story of love and loss around the larger historical context of the massive wave of immigration arriving in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Beautifully written, The Last Days of Ellis Island is compelling historical fiction with a dash of magical realism added in." - Vincent J. Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island

This information about The Last Days of Ellis Island was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Betty Taylor

Very Powerful
Only 96 pages, but so powerful!

As the book opens, the Bureau of Immigrations Commissioner, John Mitchell, is preparing for the closure of the immigration inspection office on Ellis Island. In his solitude, he reflects on the 45 years he has worked there. Feeling a need to rid himself of the past, he begins writing a diary. He has nine days to exorcise the ghosts of the island’s many temporary inhabitants that haunt him. The author writes: “I am the captain of a phantom ship that has been abandoned to its ghosts.”

Through the author’s elegant writing, I could sense the emotions Miller experienced each time a new group of immigrants disembarked. “I was always moved at the thought of all these people who had risked their lives on board for a fate as yet unknown.” Miller bared his soul, revealing the struggle he went through the two times he let his personal interests override the rules of his position. “There was too much love, too much pain on those pages.”

This book makes me want to return to Ellis Island and see it this time through the eyes of John Miller. I think the author stated it beautifully in saying the Museum of Immigration now “guards the memory of all those exiles”.

I received this book from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

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More Information

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.

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