Sukkwan Island by David Vann

Sukkwan Island by David VannThis book is a novella taken from a collection called Legend of a Suicide. To celebrate the upcoming release of a new book by this author, Caribou Island, this novella is distributed for free as an e-book (see below for details on how you can download it yourself). Sukkwan Island recently won France’s prestigious Prix Medicis award for best foreign novel.

Sukkwan Island: What it is about

Roy, a 13-year old boy and his father, Jim, arrive on a small island in Alaska to spend a year away from society. Jim, twice divorced, has bought a shack on Sukkwan island, Roy has brought a year’s worth of schoolbooks, and the plan is to survive mainly form what nature brings. A plane will come by every few months with essentials.

Roy doesn’t really know his father very well and is sceptical about their chances in the wilderness. He also doesn’t look forward to having his father as his only company for the next months. After several unfortunate happenings, he starts to doubt the survival skills of his father. He would really rather go back to the outside world.

A dramatic event changes the whole atmosphere of the book and the struggle for survival really begins.

Sukkwan Island: What I thought

The book gives a great sense of the location that Roy and Jim are in. The isolation of the cabin and the omnipresence of nature (trees, animals, weather conditions) are very well described.

The writing style and the interaction of father and son reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Desolation and desperation are present in both books but unlike the father and son in The Road, Roy and Jim know there is a society out there that they could return to when the plane (that dropped them there) comes back with new supplies.

The dramatic event that happens after some time fitted well in the story but still came very unexpectedly and I needed some time to process it. But meanwhile, the story continued relentlessly. At that point, I took a break from reading (I couldn’t read the book in one sitting because of this), as it became too much.

Overall,  thought this was a great book. The sense of nature was so strong and and I loved this. The book was very good in depicting human nature: strong people can be weak in some situations (and vice versa) and people’s behaviour cannot always be rationalised. This became especially clear towards the end of the book when other people wanted the full story about the events while at the Sukkwan Island.

Definitely a must for anyone who can appreciate good literary fiction.

Rating: 4.5/5

I got this book: as an e-book, downloaded from the Kobo site for free.

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 110 pages in Adobe Digital Editions

First published: 2010

Genre: literary fiction

Extra: Also check out my review of Caribou Island by David Vann

Reading suggestions: The Alaskan wilderness was also very present in two other books that I read not so long ago: Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein and Into the Wild by John Krakauer.

Sukkwan Island: Download details

You can download this book for free until January 25th from the following:




It is also available in the iBookstore for Apple products, and is available for the Nook.

I got my copy from the Kobo website, where I downloaded an ePub file that I was able to read on my Adobe Digital Editions application on my laptop.

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

15 Responses to Sukkwan Island by David Vann

  1. I’ve downloaded it immediately. Oh, my! My TBR-list gets longer and longer and longer everyday.

  2. LL says:

    Good to know this is a good read! When I saw that it was free, I downloaded it on a whim. (I’m a sucker for free books… it’s a weakness). I haven’t had the chance to look into it beyond that. Thanks for the review! I’ll have to get into it soon.

    • leeswammes says:

      I sometimes download books just because they’re free as well, LL. But I don’t have an e-reader so I can’t have too many of those (yet)! This one I actually thought I would like, and I did. A lot.

  3. Chinoiseries says:

    I downloaded it too, because it’s free 😉 Lacking an e-reader, I’m not sure when I’ll read it. Will you be reading more from this author?

    • leeswammes says:

      I think I will. I loved the book. His next book, which is out soon, apparently is a story about a couple moving to a remote place in Alaska and trying to survive there (and hopefully their marriage will also survive). It sounded a little too similar to *Sukkwan Island* to start reading it right away (but then, it’s not out yet), but I definitely want to read it!

      Lack of an ereader didn’t bother me. I read it in a few evenings with the laptop on my lap. But I don’t like to do that too often. I knew it was short (110 pages) so I read it in consecutive evenings. Normally, I read e-books over a very long period.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Hmmm I think I heard about this one being offered for free but didn’t know about the story itself. Your comparison of it to The Road does make me want to check it out.

    • leeswammes says:

      Suzanne, I am trying not to download everything that’s offered for free (but it’s tempting). This book, though, sounded good, I like stories set in Alaska. And because the download is free only for a limited time, I decided to read it straight away, so I could recommend it (or not) to the readers of my blog.

  5. Thanks for the recommendation. I visited Alaska in 2005 and I love reading about this wonderful country.

  6. tanabata says:

    Finally got back to read your review after posting my own. I see we said some similar things. It also reminded me strongly of The Road, which I loved when I read it a few years ago. Images from Sukkwan Island are still haunting me even though I read it a couple of weeks ago now. I look forward to hearing what you think of Caribou Island whenever you get around to reading it.

  7. Pingback: (E)Book Read! Sukkwan Island « The Books of Life!

  8. I definitely want to read some of his work, have heard onyl good things so far.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Ellie, it’s quite literary and beautiful, but Sukkwan Island and Caribou Island are a bit depressing… I’ve got a copy of his new novel, Dirt, but I haven’t read it yet. Hopefully it’s a bit more cheerful.

  9. Pingback: Book Review: A Mile Down by David Vann | Leeswammes' Blog

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