Island of Souls
Johanna Holmström (b. 1981) was born and raised in Sibbo, on the Swedish-speaking southern coast of Finland, and now lives in Helsinki. Only 22 years old she made her literary debut with a collection of short stories, Imprisoned and Other Novels, which was shortlisted for the 2004 Swedish Radio Short Story Award. Holmström went on to win the Svenska Dagbladet Literature Prize and the Swedish YLE Literature Prize for her subsequent collection Camera Obscura, and in 2013 she published her first full-length novel, Asphalt Angels. The internationally acclaimed novel heralded the start of a powerful and sensitive new authorship, unflinching in its explorations of the painful aspects of human relations and women’s history.
An autumn night in 1891, Kristina Andersson drowns her two sleeping children in the Aura river. When their pale faces have faded from view she rows home. The next morning regret sets in, but it’s too late. Kristina is sent to the asylum on Själö, an island in the Åbo archipelago. It’s a place few ever leave.
Forty years later, it’s seventeen-year-old Elli’s turn. The daughter of a bourgeois family, Elli wants something more than what the rigid structure of her family home can offer. She gets a summer job at an office, falls head over heels in love and runs away only to be embroiled in a Bonnie and Clyde-style set-up by a spurned lover. When she’s caught she too is brought to Själö, where time seems to have come to a standstill. The nurse Sigrid becomes the link between Kristina and Elli, the old and the new. But time is threatening to catch up with Själö and its inhabitants. War is brewing in Europe and will soon touch their shores too.
Johanna Holmström’s evocative and striking tale Island of Souls has its basis in reality and the tragic human fates that permeated the walls of the real-life asylum on Själö. Island of Souls is a novel about motherhood, the evil, the good, and the utterly ordinary. About the price that three women must pay for their weakness, longing, love, sorrow and friendship. But most of all perhaps, it is a book about madness, and how its definition has shifted as it has been used on women throughout time.