B A R R E N

I S L A N D

CAROL ZOREF

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST

NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD WINNER

GOLDBERG PRIZE

AWP AWARD FOR THE NOVEL

How does one remember a world that literally no longer exists? How do the moral imperatives to do so correspond to the personal needs that make it possible? Told from the point-of-view of Marta Eisenstein Lane on the occasion of her 80th birthday, Barren Island is the story of a factory island in New York’s Jamaica Bay, where the city’s dead horses and other large animals were rendered into glue and fertilizer from the mid-19th century until the 1930’s. The island itself is as central to the story as the members of the Jewish, Greek, Italian, Irish, and African-American factory families that inhabit it, including those who live their entire lives steeped in the smell of burning animal flesh.

The story begins with the arrival of the Eisenstein family, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and explores how the political and social upheavals of the 1930’s affect them and their neighbors in the years between the stock market crash of October 1929 and the start of World War II ten years later. Labor strife, union riots, the New Deal, the World’s Fair, and the struggle to save European Jews from the growing threat of Nazi terror inform this novel as much as the explosion of civil and social liberties between the two World Wars. Barren Island, finally, is a novel in which the existence of God is argued with a God that may no longer exist or, perhaps, never did.

 

Advance praise for Barren Island

“Barren Island is a wonderful synthesis of character and history. From the moment Marta Eisenstein Lane begins to tell us about her remarkable family’s lives on the rank, forsaken sand bar of Barren Shoal, rendering animal carcasses into glue, the author immerses us in a world most readers would never otherwise have known existed. As squalid and hardscrabble as these lives may be, they are also suffused with strange beauty and love by Marta’s solicitude and honesty. Barren Island is big hearted, generous, and fascinating.”

 

— PAUL HARDING, author of Tinkers and Enon.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Fernanda Pivano Award for American Literature, and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize

 

 

“What isn’t Carol Zoref’s remarkable first novel about? Set on a tiny, precarious, repugnant and rank splinter of land where New York City’s dead horses were once rendered into grease, her book is nevertheless rich with family, friendship, romance, and incipient moral consciousness on a tiny precarious planet with the smell of fascism in the air. In every way that matters, Barren Island is abundant.”

 

— MELVIN JULES BUKIET, author of After, Strange Fire, and other books

Winner of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award

 

 

“What’s extraordinary about Barren Island isn’t just its wild corner of history – a shoal off the shores of Brooklyn, whose factory boils down animal carcasses for ‘glue and grease’ – but its remarkable imagining of the lives of families there. At its center is a resourceful young girl coming of age, and the novel does what only fiction can do – it presents the human intricacies we could hardly guess. An amazing piece of work.”

 

— JOAN SILBER, National Book Award Finalist for Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories and the PEN/Hemingway Award for Household Words

 

 

 

“With warmth, intelligence, and a wryly humane voice, Carol Zoref gives us an unforgettable heroine and shines light on a forgotten chapter of the American story. Richly atmospheric and deeply tender, Barren Island is a thought-provoking pleasure.”

 

—BRIAN MORTON, author of Starting Out in the Evening, Florence Gordon, and other books. Winner of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Koret Jewish Book Award for Fiction, and the Guggenheim Foundation Award. Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Zoref is a fiction writer and essayist. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and New York University. She lives in New York City.

 
 

READINGS & EVENTS

September 12, 2019

Roosevelt Island, NY

ROOSEVELT ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Roosevelt Island Public Library
Main St., Roosevelt Island, NY

6:30 - 7:30 PM

August 5, 2019

New York City

SCRIBBLERS ON THE ROOF

Ansche Chesed
251 West 100 th St.
New York, NY 10025

8:00 - 10:00 PM

June 5, 2019

Roslyn Heights, NY

 

Temple Beth Sholom
Sandler Chapel
Roslyn Heights, NY 11577

7:00 PM

March 5, 2019

Naples, FL

GREAT NAPLES JEWISH BOOK FESTIVAL

Naples Conference Center

9:30 AM - 12:30 PM

March 16, 2019

Brooklyn, NY

Sebago Boat Club
Paerdegat Ave. North
Brooklyn, NY 11236

10:30 AM

January 31, 2019

New York City

HAROLD U. RIBALOW AWARD CEREMONY
40 Wall St., 8th Floor
New York, NY 10003

3:00 - 5:00 PM

By Invitation

April 25, 2018

New York City

SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE ALUMNI EVENT

Offices of Stephanie Cooper, Esq.

3 Columbus Circle

6:30--8:30 PM

Refreshments will be served

Registration contact:

Dania Abu-Shaheen, Director of Alumni Affairs

dshaheen@sarahlawrence.edu

March 6, 2018

New York City

National Jewish Book Awards

Prince George Ballroom

15 East 27th St.

6:30--10:00 PM

Tickets available through Jewish Book Council

February 1, 2018

Scarsdale, New York

 

Scarsdale Literary Salon

Scarsdale Public Library

7:30--9:30 PM

December 5, 2017

Boca Raton, Florida

LEVIS JCC SANDLER CENTER

A Literary Afternoon

2:00--4:00 PM

November 17-18 2017

MIAMI, FLORIDA

Miami Book Fair

Saturday, 11/18

Room: 3313

12:30 p.m. 
NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS FICTION NOMINEES

 

Carmen Maria Machado on Her Body and Other Parties

Elliot Ackerman on Dark at the Crossing 

Lisa Ko on The Leavers

Min Jin Lee on Pachinko

Margeret Wilkerson Sexton on A Kind of Freedom

Carol Zoref on Barren Island

October 25, 2017

NEW YORK CITY

Nolita

MCNALLY JACKSON BOOKS

52 PRINCE STREET

NEW YORK, NY 10012

7:00 PM

New Issues Poetry & Prose Presents

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Elaine Sexton

Carol Zoref

June 15, 2017

The Bryant Library

2 Paper Mill Road

Roslyn, NY 11576

7:00 pm

ROSLYN, LONG ISLAND, NY

June 11, 2017

NEW HAVEN, CT

 

Yale University

Yale Writers’ Conference

1:30 - 2:45 pm

May 1, 2017

NEW YORK CITY, NY

New York University

NYU Bookstore 

726 Broadway, New York 10003

6:30-7:30 pm

April 13, 2017

KALAMAZOO, MI

Western Michigan University

Frostic Reading Series

8:00 – 9:00 pm

Feb. 27, 2017

BRONXVILLE, NY

Sarah Lawrance College

Craft Talk

2:00 – 3:00 pm

Feb. 10, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C.

AWP Annual Conference

(Association of Writers and Writing Programs)

 

AWP AWARD WINNERS READING

12:00—1:15pm

(AWP Bookfair Stage, Exhibit Halls D & E, Washington Convention Center, Level Two)

 

Book Signing/New Issues Poetry & Prose

4:00—5:00 pm

(Exhibitor Hall #714)

 

"Ask about the smell. That is what everyone asks no matter who or why or where they might be. It is the detail they want most when they hear about the horses and dogs and pigs that filled the barges; about the wake of stench when the meat markets closed for the day and the surgeries closed for the morning and the rest of New York paused in coffee shops and automats, in lunchrooms and kitchens and union halls, on curbsides and at cleared-away corners of the cutting tables in the garment factories on 39th Street to eat sandwiches made from animal parts, the ones that would not be burned that day on Barren Shoal."