The Last Days of Ellis Island

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.

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Publication date

November 24, 2020




Gaëlle Josse

Gaëlle Josse holds degrees in law, journalism, and clinical psychology. Formerly a poet, she published her first novel … Read more


Praise for The Last Days of Ellis Island


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

Livres Hebdo


“With precise and barbed language, Gaëlle Josse allows us to experience a slice of American history through the movements of a soul preyed upon by its demons. Masterly and urgent!”

Librairie, Pages après pages


“Gaëlle Josse visits Ellis Island and constructs an intimate, collective geography, the story of one man intertwined with those of thousands of others. She rejects exaggeration and pathos, instead embracing the joy of invention and facing the crudeness of what happened head-on.”



“It’s always somewhat pointless to attempt categorization, especially in the impalpable and subjective domain of artistic creation. However, can’t we call The Last Days of Ellis Island the most beautiful text Gaëlle Josse has ever written, one in which the alchemy of the preceding ones reaches, on a completely different subject, a kind of completion?”

La Croix


“This is the story of the last day of the last guardian of Ellis Island, a place that has for long been the one entryway to the American Dream for thousands of impoverished immigrants. Don’t miss this beautiful novel – full of emotion, memory, and vigor.”

Femme Actuelle


“You let yourself be swept along by a narrative that gently oscillates between the supernatural and the unnerving.  This literary season’s little jewel.”

La Vie


“A very beautiful novel… about those whom one forgets to thank, those who, because they have been invisible, no longer now how to take back their existence.”



“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


“Allows Gaëlle Josse to blend invented emotions and historical truth in a beautiful manner.”

Hommes & Migrations


“Magnificent. Poignant.”



“It’s hard not to become John Mitchell during the reading. Gaëlle Josse writes his diary for the last nine working days on Ellis Island with a strong sense of presence and credibility.”



“A highly meaningful effort to give voice to people whose destiny has long been forgotten.”