Saturday, January 29, 2011

'Sukkwan Island' by David Vann

Literary Fiction, 2010
Harper Collins, eBook, 104 p.
Winner of the Prix Médicis étranger 2010
Source: Kobobooks (Free book* offer from Harper Collins)

Sukkwan Island is a novella from David Vann’s debut collection of stories, Legend of a Suicide. This particular story was singled out last year when it won the Prix Médicis étranger, and for very good reason.

It’s the story of a young thirteen-year-old boy, Roy, who accepts his father’s invitation to try their hand at homesteading on the remote island of the title, in the southeastern Alaskan wilderness. Roy hasn’t spent a lot of time with his father in recent years, ever since his father and mother divorced and he moved to California with his mother and sister. Yet, he decides to uproot himself and go along with his father’s crazy idea. It’s just the two of them fending for themselves in a small wooden cabin, fishing and hunting for food, and preparing themselves for the harsh winter ahead. The situation becomes rather tense as they are stuck in close quarters for days on end, and Roy begins to seriously question his father’s ability to take care of them. Roy would like nothing better than to return to the life he left behind. At this point, something entirely dramatic and unexpected happens, and it becomes a true struggle for survival.

The father and son survival story reminded me easily of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and the author himself acknowledges McCarthy’s influence while he was writing this particular story. I loved The Road, and it’s been a while since I’ve read a similarly dramatic story between father and son. As well, the landscape, the unforgiving weather, and the isolation all play an important role in the story, and provide a powerful sense of place.

It’s a dark, tragic story but also poignant and moving. It’s the kind of story that will haunt you for a while even after you’ve finished it. The other stories in Legend of a Suicide, revolve around the same central character and are variations of the same story at different points in time. After reading Sukkwan Island, I definitely want to read the rest of them.

David Vann's website

*Note: The free ebook offer for Sukkwan Island has ended, but if you didn't download it when I mentioned it the other day, it's available to buy at the following, and other online sources.

Buy Sukkwan Island (ebook) at: |
Buy Legend of a Suicide at: | | (ebook)

Also reviewed by:
Leeswammes' Blog
If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

The small print: This book was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes. Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information please visit my About Page.


  1. You thought exactly the same as me about the book. You know, last week I saw a copy of Legend of a Suicide (the collection in which Sukkwan Island was originally printed) in Dutch in our local bookshop! I was so pleased to see it. I tend to read books in English if they are originally English, though.

  2. I really wanted to try another Vann book after reading Caribou Island. Thanks for the review, I added it to my TBR.


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