Reading David Hogan’s wonderfully written The Last Island is like entering the waters of a warm cove on the Aegean sea and letting the ocean flow over you. Being pulled tentatively at first by its currents, but then letting go, floating in the reddish glow of fires on a distant mountain.
There is so much to enjoy while reading The Last Island. There is also so much to reflect on and ponder.
An ex- Boston firefighter arrives on a small Greek island, where fires blaze on a distant mountain range, as planes continue to try to put them out. A disgraced man whose inaction was the ultimate betrayal to a firefighting brother and his friend’s wife. A self-absorbed and self-exiled anti-hero who finds himself working in the Taverna Giorgos, a small and simple place. A stripped down fisherman’s watering hole that serves coffee, soda, Greek wine, ouzo, beer and cheap whiskey in expensive bottles.
The reader is torn between disliking the man and, deep down, rooting for him to find some sort of redemption.
The possibility of this happening develops when he meets an attractive and driven animal rights activist, Kerryn, whose small shack is next to his in the cove, and who at night secretly swims with a dolphin called Yukon.
Kerryn is determined woman who puts her life at risk, trying to damage the illegal nets cast from the boats owned by a rich tavern owner, Papakakis. The man, who is running for mayor, is determined to rid the island’s natural reserve status, and turn it into a tourist attraction, thus ridding the ancient village of its fisherman heritage.
At a gathering of the fishermen of the old ways in the tavern, Giannopoulos, their leader, who also longs to become mayor, speaks to them about how they must hold out against the modern changes looming around them:
“It’s not to save the few fish left, it’s to save us. We are the last of our kind, simple fisherman, descended from the ancients, the sons of apostles of Jesus. And this place.” He stopped to catch his breath. “If we don’t hold out, you know what comes next? Fishing trawlers and buildings everywhere and crowds and restaurants and pollution, and we will disappear, without anyone knowing or caring that it was every here.”
The reader does come to care. To care about all of the inhabitants of this small piece of land, all their struggles, their laughter, their failures, their loves, their tragedies, and realizations. Headline themes of the environment, deregulation, the rights of all living things, and the deepening cost of capitalism are present. The choices one makes, and how they can ultimately result in life or death.
The novel transports the reader to this tiny piece of the world and magnifies it through his extraordinary prose, leaving the reader moved in unexpected ways. David Hogan’s The Last Island is a wonderful gift to writing.
Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions