Winner of the AWP Award for the Novel (2017)
How does one remember a world that literally no longer exists? How do the moral imperatives to do so correspond to the personal needs that make it possible? Told from the point-of-view of Marta Eisenstein Lane on the occasion of her 80th birthday, Barren Island is the story of a factory island in New York’s Jamaica Bay, where the city’s dead horses and other large animals were rendered into glue and fertilizer from the mid-19th century until the 1930’s. The island itself is as central to the story as the members of the Jewish, Greek, Italian, Irish, and African-American factory families that inhabit it, including those who live their entire lives steeped in the smell of burning animal flesh.
The story begins with the arrival of the Eisenstein family, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and explores how the political and social upheavals of the 1930’s affect them and their neighbors in the years between the stock market crash of October 1929 and the start of World War II ten years later. Labor strife, union riots, the New Deal, the World’s Fair, and the struggle to save European Jews from the growing threat of Nazi terror inform this novel as much as the explosion of civil and social liberties between the two World Wars. Barren Island, finally, is a novel in which the existence of God is argued with a God that may no longer exist or, perhaps, never did.
About the Author
AudioFile Earphones Award winner Elizabeth Wiley is a seasoned actor, dialect coach, theater professor, and dedicated narrator. She brings over twenty-five years of award-winning acting and voice experience to the studio to create memorable, compelling storytelling.
What People are Saying About This
“Barren Island is a wonderful synthesis of character and history. From the moment Marta Eisenstein Lane begins to tell us about her remarkable family’s lives on the rank, forsaken sand bar of Barren Shoal, rendering animal carcasses into glue, the author immerses us in a world most readers would never otherwise have known existed. As squalid and hardscrabble as these lives may be, they are also suffused with strange beauty and love by Marta’s solicitude and honesty. Barren Island is big-hearted, generous, and fascinating.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A terrific and compelling read and a powerful and engaging first novel! Barren Island totally captures a time and place in New York City’s not so distant past. As the fictional but historically based story of immigrant families struggling to during the depression opens, we meet the Eisenstein family and their daughter Marta. It is Marta who narrates the novel of her growing up, looking back many years after these events occur. Her family’s life unfolds on a harshly beautiful sand bar where the men labor in dangerous and foul factories, the women work constantly to create nurturing home lives preserving their cultural traditions, and the children struggle to find their identities in a changing world gradually impinging on their isolation. Highly recommend!