Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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

I cannot recall how I even learned this book existed but what an awesome thing to experience. Schalansky explores fifty very remote, oft inhospitable islands that are scattered all over the world. No, as the title confirms, she did not actually attempt to reach each island to see it for herself. Her literary exploration comes from research into historical documents and personal accountings. There's Raoul Island (New Zealnd) with 10 residents the N.Z. Department of Conservation sends to live for twelve months. The DOC brochure warns: "It takes a special person to cope with living on an island as isolated as Raoul." My favorite story Schalansky unearthed takes place on Rapa Iti (French Polynesia). A young boy has dreams in which he learns a foreign language. Some thirty years later, as he is being studied by researchers at the University of Rennes, they come across a bartender who, having heard this man speak, says he knows someone who speaks the same language. She is a Polynesian woman.
"When Meretuini Make opens the door, Marc greets her in his language, and she answers straight away in the old Rapa of her homeland. Marc Liblin, who has never been outside Europe, marries the only woman who understands him, and in 1983 he leaves with her for the island where his language is spoken." 
There is an island no one can set foot on (Peter I Island), an island sinking into the sea (Takuu), an island rumored to have buried treasure (Cocos Island), an island with zero population growth (Tikopia), and an island filled with a population of peoples who are completely colour blind (Pingelap).

I would say this book is good for anyone interested in islands and stories and history and adventure. It's really quite awesome. 8 down, plus 44 and volume 1 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature to go.

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