Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: ISLAND OF SAINTS by Andy Andrews

Island of Saints
A Story of the One Principle That Frees the Human Spirit
by Andy Andrews

Published by: Nelson Books, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 2005.

239 pages

"You must read this book."

I took the book from my friend's hand. "Is it fiction or non-fiction?"

He smiled. "Read it and decide."

This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read--and one of the best. Andrews breaks many of the rules that contemporary writers are warned against. Perhaps his most serious infraction is that he head hops; that is, he shifts point of view among the paragraphs within a scene. Such a technique keeps the reader on her toes and occasionally causes her to pause. A writer would have to be very skilled to do this well, and Andrews is quite proficient at his craft. He knows the rules, and he knows how to break them skillfully, intelligently.

It is early summer as I sit at my desk and finally begin the process of sorting what I know to be true from what I merely suspect.

Thus begins the book. The first person narrator is Andrews himself. Does that indicate that the book is non-fiction? It would seem so. But wouldn't it be an interesting twist for the writer to use himself as narrator in a work of fiction? The hook is a good one. My mind began to fill with the questions Andrews intended, questions that would propel me into the meat of the story.

While World War II figures prominently in the story, it is not the central focus. The people are. Each one has his or her own set of challenges.

Helen Mason is emotionally crippled by the untimely death of her husband and her hatred toward Germany. Josef Landermann, a U-Boat sailor, washes up onto the beach and into Helen's life, bringing with him his own set of hatreds and losses. When Helen discovers him bleeding badly from two gunshot wounds and wearing a waterlogged German sailor's uniform, she is torn between walking away, leaving him to die, and helping him to her cabin, which is nearly a mile away. Ruefully, she chooses the latter. At first, she refuses even to dress his infected wounds. But neither does she turn him over to the authorities.

Eventually wounds heal, both physical and emotional. Billy and Margaret Gilbert, proprietors of The Hungry Mullet Cafe where Helen works, know a great truth about life and how it should be lived, a truth that they share with Helen. By Christmas, Helen and Josef are considering marriage. Their lives have settled into a comfortable routine.

One day, as the two leave a store after doing some gift shopping, Josef bumps into Ernst Schneider, the Nazi spy who had tried to murder Josef. He and Helen make it to her truck and out of town, but now Schneider knows that the bullets he fired into Josef's shoulder and leg had not killed him, nor had he drowned when he fell into the Gulf of Mexico from the U-Boat. Schneider determines to finish the job, killing Helen and anyone else who dares to get in his way.

Back to the original question: is it fiction or non-fiction? Read it and decide. Andrews is a master storyteller, indeed.

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