• Events

The Last Days of Ellis Island

Gaëlle Josse | Translated by Natasha Lehrer

Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature

New York, November 3, 1954. In a few days, the immigration inspection station on Ellis Island will close its doors forever. John Mitchell, an officer of the Bureau of Immigration, is the guardian and last resident of the island. As Mitchell looks back over forty-five years as gatekeeper to America and its promise of a better life, he recalls his brief marriage to beloved wife Liz, and is haunted by memories of a transgression involving Nella, an immigrant from Sardinia. Told in a series of poignant diary entries, this is a story of responsibility, love, fidelity, and remorse.

Gaëlle Josse holds degrees in law, journalism, and clinical psychology. Formerly a poet, she published her first novel, Les Heures silencieuses (‘The Quiet Hours’), in 2011. Josse went on to win several awards, including the Alain Fournier Award in 2013 for Nos vies désaccordées (‘Our Out-Of-Tune Lives’). After spending a few years in New Caledonia, she returned to the Paris area, where she now works and lives. Josse received the European Union Prize for Literature for The Last Days of Ellis Islandalong with the Grand Livre du Mois Literary Prize.


“Josse powerfully evokes the spirit of the “huddled masses” who landed on America’s shores while creating a memorable portrait of a man torn between his commitment to his difficult job and the longings of his heart. Duty and desire clash in the melancholy reminiscences of a former Ellis Island immigration officer.”—Kirkus, Starred Review

“Gripping…The Last Days of Ellis Island is an absorbing novel in which beloved dreams are fast to shatter.”—Foreword Reviews

“I devoured this gem of a novel, which manages to perfectly capture both a singular moment in time and an entire universe of hope, longing and heartbreak. Brilliantly constructed and beautifully told, The Last Days of Ellis Island is a timeless—and timely—exploration of compassion and regret.”—Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest

“Intimate, alluring and at times haunting, The Last Days of Ellis Island imagines the closing hours of Ellis Island’s existence as a gateway for the hopeful through the eyes of its last caretaker. Josse examines with care how life, no matter where you spend it, is a weave of wonderful moments and sad ones; moments we are insanely grateful for and moments we wish with everything within that we could take back. Eloquently and skillfully rendered.”—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of A Fall of Marigolds

“Combining real and fictional events, Gaëlle Josse has written a text as visceral as it is melancholy and vibrant.”—Livres Hebdo

“What is Gaëlle Josse’s secret? Every time, we are delighted by her work, and yet this novel has nothing in common with her previous books… The author, in a consistently exquisite style, gives us a work that is not only well-researched and passionate, but also melancholic, and of incomparable power.”—Version Femina

More info.