There are some places you would not want to go. Even if I told you that we have oceans clear and blue as summer skies, filled with sea turtles and dolphins, or forest-covered hills lush with birds that call through air thick with warmth…Nobody comes here because they want to. The island of no return.
These hauntingly beautiful words mark the beginning of the novel The Island at the End of Everything written by the British author Kiran Millwood Hargrave. The novel is set in the early twentieth century Philippines. The story draws its inspiration from the real life Culion Island which became the world’s biggest leper colony between 1906 and 1998. In those times leprosy was a widespread disease and a stigmatizing one as well. Infected people were quarantined at the Culion Island. Hargrave has given a voice and a face to thousands of such people and their families by interweaving the tale of a fictitious 12 years old girl Amihan and her sick mother against the background of Culion Island.
The island marks the end of all hope for the people struck by the formidable disease. Nonetheless, they find their ray of sunshine amid all the hopelessness- Amihan lives with her Nanay( as she calls her mother). A sense of doom looms over their world but they are happy to be together. Their little world comes crashing down when it is decided that the healthy people( the untouched) will be segregated from the diseased ones( the touched). For young Amihan and her Nanay, it is a life changing turn of events. With a heavy heart and the hope of reuniting once again when Amihan is 18 years old, they bid farewell to each other. However, circumstances unfold in a way that Amihan has to escape her orphanage and sail across the sea to meet her gravely sick mother.
This novel on one hand portrays the sense of despond that patients of this dreaded disease and their families were destined to face. On the other hand it also signifies hope- that there’s life beyond. And most importantly, it gives the message that every life, no matter how long or short, has a meaning. Nanay says, what are perhaps the most exquisitely beautiful words of the book-
“ Some butterflies only live a day, some a week, some a month. But they spend every one of those days busy living. And they make the world a more beautiful place, however brief their time.”
Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a weaver of worlds which are magical and will draw you in. Pick up this gem of a book to experience the magic which will stay with you for a long, long time.