University of Rochester

Island of Exile is Island of Dreams for Family in Joanna Scott's New Novel

October 25, 2002

In the mid-1950s, Murray Murdoch moves his family to sunny Elba in yet another quest to score a fortune. Decades later, his youngest son returns to the Italian island, seeking answers to what happened when he was a child.

In Tourmaline, Joanna Scott's latest novel, the characters are caught between ambition and failure, reacting in various ways to the island and its inhabitants, to the events that unfold around them, and, ultimately, to each other.

Tourmaline (Little, Brown and Company, $23.95 hardcover) is on the bookstands this month, published a year after Scott's return from a sabbatical in Italy where she worked on her seventh book. Scott is the Roswell S. Burrows Professor of English at the University of Rochester, where she teaches classes in creative writing, contemporary literature, and studies in the novel.

Elba, most famous as the place of Napoleon's exile, has abundant deposits of semiprecious stones, and the elder Murdoch is convinced he can strike it rich by finding valuable tourmaline. The disappearance of a mysterious local girl casts suspicion on Murray and sends the island's inhabitants and the Murdoch family into turmoil.

Scott's work has consistently earned critical acclaim for her vivid prose, multi-faceted narration, insights into human behavior and relationships, and lush descriptions of settings. "Details of Elba's rich history, and particularly of Napoleon's exile there, are artfully woven into the narrative," Publishers Weekly noted about Tourmaline. "This is an absorbing picture of a family rediscovering themselves in a foreign land."

Scott is the author of five other novels: The Manikin, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1997; Arrogance, which received the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, the Lillian Fairchild Award, and a nomination for the PEN/Faulkner Award; Make Believe; The Closest Possible Union; and Fading, My Parmacheene Belle. In addition, she has published a collection of short stories, Various Antidotes, which was also a PEN/Faulkner Award nominee.

A member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Scott also is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, popularly known as the "genius award," a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction.

Scott will be reading from her novel at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at Barnes & Noble, 3349 Monroe Ave., Pittsford.