Castaway stories have always held a special place in my heart and Jill Ciment’s novel The Tattoo Artist is no different.

Our narrator – Sara Ehrenreich, a New York based artist – is stranded on a remote South Seas island on the eve of World War II. As the title suggests, Sara becomes a tattoo artist – and canvas – while on the island. The novel is narrated by Sara thirty years later, as she finally returns to New York. What must one’s home look like after thirty years away?

My love of the castaway narrative was only enhanced by my military service. Each year I spent overseas I returned to a world shifted. Whether it was I who shifted or the world I’m still not sure. A book like Ciment’s gives us this experience on steroids. Thirty years on an island must be far more jarring than one year in the desert. I wasn’t as in love with the characters here as I was with Cutting for Stone but the narrative pulled me forward. When each chapter ended I wanted to know what happened next. Who would rescue this girl? Why did she keep tattooing? Can a person really tattoo her own breast? (yeah, that happens)

This string pulling me forward sells the book for me. You simply can’t overestimate how nice it is to read a novel that makes you wonder, that makes you hope the next page is as good as the last. Thankfully, for the most part, each page delivered on that promise.

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