Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will / by Judith Schalansky

"Paradise is an island. So is hell." (p. ii)
Wanna get away? It is the fantasy of more than a few people to someday own their very own island (it's a reality for some as well) of which they could live out the rest of their days in solitude surrounded by serene natural beauty. Of course it's more likely that the islands they dream of retiring to don't require owning multiple aircraft, a fleet of charter boats, well-paid crewmen and satellite technology just to locate. German author Schalansky details some of these nondescript (nondescript for a reason) islands, most of which are uninhabited save for a scientific research station or two in this quirky travel book on places you're almost certain never to have had the displeasure to set foot on. Schalansky makes no pretense about why she'll never set foot on any of these places stating that most are "inhospitable even for aspiring Robinson Crusoes". Most can't accommodate even the most well-equipped research teams for any legitimate length of time.
Possession Island, for example, of the Crozet Archipelago in the very southern part of the Indian Ocean is 2,000 miles from Antartica and roughly the same distance from Madagascar, the nearest landmasses, and over 1,000 miles from the nearest island in Amsterdam Island, also a 'never set foot on' destination. The French discovered it in 1962 and promptly named one of the volcanic peaks after author Jules Verne. They also named a river near the southern portion of the 50 sq. mi. island the Styx River for obvious reasons ("This barren archipelago is so difficult to get to, you might think the only way to reach it was to be dragged by the constat drift of the west wind . . ." p. 58). Other islands included in this oddly fascinating and well-annotated atlas are St. Helena, made famous as Napoleon's final exile, Easter Island with its giant heads of mysterious origin and Fangataufa which has been the test site for a handful of atom bomb detonations. But really, this is kind of a cool book if only for the author's sardonic, but knowledgeable style of talking about a few of the world's most waayyy out-of-the-way places. (910.914 SCHALANS)

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