Island of the Doomed (De dömdas ö, 1946). Translation and introduction by Laurie Thompson. Quartet Books, London, 1991. ISBN 0-7043-7001-8; University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
Shipwrecked on a remote, waterless island in the Pacific, seven castaways await their inevitable death. The language is inspired by Faulkner, and the symbolism by Kafka. Dagerman wrote the novel while holed up in August Strindberg’s writing cabin in the Stockholm archipelago. The last sixty pages were written during one night and Dagerman said he felt like “God was doing the writing”.
The surrealistic imagery bursting forth on its pages is dark, pained and with no lack of a self-destructive humor. The last days of the dying characters allows Dagerman to explore psychological and philosophical issues close to his heart. Written in the year of the Nuremberg Trials, it describes the minds of the fascist leader, Captain Wilson, and the blindly obeying soldier, Boy Larus. They are contrasted by the novel’s protagonist, Lucas Egmont, who believes in the individual’s need to choose and the value of symbolic action even in the face of hopelessness.
Dagerman is the eighth survivor and doomed; no island was ever more real as an arena of anguish.
The difference is that the stereotype of the melancholy Swede is here, awesomely, in real torment. The
difference is the poet’s gift of language, and the novelist’s of character creation. Put the two together
in the section dealing with the mother with the iguana son and the comparison with Kafka is, for once,
permissible. The difference, of course and as always, is that unbridgeable gap between the wishful
average and the gifted. — Frederic Lindsay, The Scotsman, April 18, 1992 (read entire review on the Blog)
“Are not all our acts symbolic, is there such a thing as ‘meaningless acts’ and you can add: is there such a thing as ‘meaningful acts’? Aren’t all acts symbolic, aren’t all our acts—however crazy or meaningless they can appear to others—full of meaning due to their specific symbolic with which they are intended? Tying a rope around the nearest oak tree to try to bring it down is as meaningful an act as tearing down a house or hanging yourself in the attic, because they all reflect the ultimately meaningless in all human endeavors.”
—Stig Dagerman, Island of the Doomed
About Island of the Doomed
“All of Dagerman’s oeuvre, his novels, poems and political essays are in some way contained in this stormy novel, in its whirl of sensations and images. … ‘the open eyes which fearlessly scrutinize their dangerous position must be the stars of our ego, our only compass, the compass which decides which direction we take, because if there is no compass, there can be no direction.’ With humble gratitude to Stig Dagerman who, in order to show us the way, let himself be consumed by his own fire.”
—JMG Le Clézio, Introduction to new Swedish (2010) and American (2012) editions
“There are some writers (Kafka and Lorca immediately spring to mind) who come to enjoy the status of saint, their lives and deaths constitute statements about existence and it’s proper priorities and the works left behind are continually transfigured by our knowledge of them, indeed acquire on this account a kind of talismanic power. A saint of this type, particularly for his compatriots, is the Swedish writer Stig Dagerman.”
—Paul Binding, Review of first English edition, Times Literary Supplement, 1991
“There is nothing like it in Swedish literature. It’s closest relative is Kafka or Camus.” Read more
—Pontus Stenshäll, Director, Moment Theater, on staging Island of the Doomed, 2010
Scenes from Stenshäll’s theatrical production of De dömdas ö.
Editions and Translations
- Swedish: De dömdas ö, 1946 (Norstedts), 1955 (Norstedts), 1967 (PAN), 1981 (Norstedts Samlade Skrifter), 1991 (PAN/Norstedts), 2010 (Norstedts)
- English: Island of the Doomed, 1991 (Quartet Books), 2012 (University of Minnesota Press)
- Dutch: Het eiland der verdoemden, 1986 (Meulenhoff)
- French: L’ile des condamnés, 1972, 1987 (Denoël), 2002, 2009 (Agone)
- German: Die Insel der Verdammten, 1987 (Suhrkamp)
- Hungarian: Akik az üvegtengernél énekelnek, 2007 (Napkút Kiadó)
- Polish: Wyspa skazancow, 2010 (Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy)
- Portuguese: A ilha dos condenados, 1990 (Antigona)
- Spanish: La Isla de los condenados, 2016 (Sexto Piso)