The Island is a collection of three stories sharing a similar setting (Italy) and populated by several characters who are outcasts. In the title story, the relationship between residents of an island and its medieval monastery, the Certosa, decays over time. When a talented stonemason is accidentally injured, his damaged senses are replaced by pain and suffering. His struggle and sacrifice, however, ultimately result in redemption for all those who inhabit "The Island."

In the eighteenth century, a 20 year old leper is condemned to live the remainder of his life in a tower fittingly known as the Tower of Fright. Although befriended by a stranger, the occupant of "The Tower" must nevertheless endure solitude, and he does so with the patience and grace of a saint. With the backdrop of a plague, "The Second Coming" is a medieval tale that recounts the torture of a doubting priest, an unknown pilgrim’s participation in a miracle, and the death of a pope.


These three tales all portray suffering and solitude. They illustrate how the past haunts us. The stories are further connected by their depiction of man’s predilection for ruin, the nature and uncertainty of truth, human frailty and cruelty, and our search for deliverance.

Yet the hope of salvation results in the generation of miracles (or at least deliverance from the cruelty of reality). Compassion and perseverance emerge as divine qualities. Plague plays a large role in these stories.

Weakness of the body and the spirit often wrecks the characters’ desire for immortality or at least their chance of survival. Adorned with symbolism and religious overtones, Herling has created an enduring work that explores the danger of solitude (which destroys "bit by bit like a cancer") and the peril of isolation from the world ("The unhappy man is alone anywhere").


The Island and "The Tower" were first published in Polish in 1960. "The Second Coming" was first published in 1963. Translated by Ronald Strom.



Place Published

New York



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