Paradise is an island.
So is hell.
Let that sink in. Is it sinking? No? That’s ok. I didn’t get it either until I began reading Judith Schalansky’s new book, Atlas of Remote Islands. There are many tiny islands sprinkled around the world that are too small, too insignificant to appear on most maps. However, their size does not make them any less interesting.
According to author, “All text in the book is based on extensive research and every detail stems from factual source. I have no invented anything.” Here are two of the most fascinating excerpts from the book:
St. Kilda, United Kingdom
There are sixteen cottages, three houses and one church in the only village on St. Kilda. The island’s future is written in its graveyard. Its children are all born in good health, but most stop feeding during their fourth, fifth or sixth night. On the seventh day, their palates tighten and their throats constrict, so it becomes impossible to get them to swallow anything. Their muscles twitch and their jaws hang loose. Their eyes grow staring and they yawn a great deal; their mouth stretch in mocking grimaces. Between the seventh and ninth day, two-thirds of the newborn babies die, boys outnumbering girls. Some die sooner, some later: one dies on the fourth day, another not till the twenty-first.
Amsterdam Island, France
Everyone who stays on Amsterdam for longer than a year is examined by a medical officer from the south of France to check that he is coping with the long period of restriction of movement and the confined, purely masculine environment. No woman has visited longer than two days. At night, the men gather in the small video room in Great Skua to watch one of the porn films from their personal collection. Each man sits in a row on his own. The loudspeakers emit grunts and groans, and the air is heavy with the musky scent of the bull seals.
Atlas of Remote Island is beautifully presented with a vivid and captivating story on the left and paired with a colored map on the right for each of the fifty islands. Each island comes to life and gives character to these far off places. What makes this book so intriguing is that it demolishes the image of what we often think an island is – white sand, clear waters, blue skies and lush greenery. Instead, there are stories of infanticide, rape, murder, cannibalism, colonialism and human rights abuse.
Do you think you’ll be able to survive on a remote island? The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) recruits nine volunteers every year to assist their staff on Raoul Island for six months. There are extensive warnings in their brochure but if you’re brave enough to go the extreme, applications can be sent to the address below:
Department of Conservation
PO Box 474
Warkworth, New Zealand
Disclosure: A free copy of Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky was provided for this review. No monetary compensation was received.