Islands: Lost and Found

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AND, note to winners of our January contest–the books are in the mail.

Book Cover: Atlas of Remote Islands

Destination: The Oceans

Book: The Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will (NEW in English, 2010) by Judith Schalansky

As a writer, artist, and typographer, the perfect job for Judith Schalansky, surely would be to create an Atlas. And she did just that.  An Atlas of Remote Islands wins a place in the traveler’s library as a book of beauty, ingenuity, poetry and even contains some of the statistical facts you expect from a reference book. I will treasure this book, dipping into it whenever I feel the need to flee ordinary places and ordinary books.

Her book won awards in Germany, where people sailed into book stores to buy this instructive yet fanciful look at 50 islands. She explains in her foreword that one book in just about every German household is an Atlas.  And to add to the love affair with maps, consider that she grew up in East Germany under communism, when the government banned travel, but could not stop travel of the imagination–armchair travel.

Judith Schalansky and pages from Remote Islands

Shalansky serves up one page of text and a handsome map of each of the 50 islands. Other than a few facts–location, size, governing country–she doesn’t try to tell us everything about each island, but introduces each with a story of a person who once lived, or tried to live on that island. While based on fact, these stories reside more in fantasy than reality. As Utopias, most of these islands proved to be let downs. If they were uninhabited, there was good reason–too remote, too bereft of flora and fauna, not conducive to farming, no fresh water sources. And yet, humankind must seek out islands just as they must climb mountains–because they are there.

St. Lucia beach
The not-so-remote St. Lucia in the Caribbean

While you may have heard of a few of them, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) for one, most will trip you up on a geography quiz.

Go Nomad published this article which compares the book’s story to the experience of “The World’s Most Traveled Man.”

Britain’s Guardian on line, whose reviews I always love to read, says:

In her foreword, Schalansky describes the act of finger-walking a map as an “erotic gesture”. Cartophiles will know instantly what she means: not that there is a sexual frisson involved in map-reading, but that the distant longing for a landscape is usually far greater than the satisfaction gained by reaching it (eroticism’s essence being anticipation rather than consummation).

I want to thank Penguin, the publisher for providing this book for review.

If you are an island fan, you will also want to read

And for Map lovers:

I took the photo of a St. Lucia beach was taken while I was a guest of the gorgeous East Winds Inn. The beach was right outside my apartment. Not remote, but SO island!

How about you? Share your island stories. What is the most remote or unique island you have ever visited?

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

27 thoughts on “Islands: Lost and Found

  1. That Guardian quote about eroticism equaling the thrill of anticipation is spot-on – thanks for sharing it! I’m most often on the island of Manhattan, which is exotic and cannibalistic in its own ways, but I’d rather be up on Mount Desert Island in Maine….

  2. Whenever I see an island on a map, I always want to know more. And in my mind, it’s always an undiscovered Swiss Family Robinson fantasy waiting to happen. This is a great resource, thanks for telling us about it!

  3. This sounds like a delightful book!!! I love maps and to hear of various islands- well, I’m sure I would love it.


    I received my book from Mike Gerrard- thanks again!! 🙂

  4. It sounds like a fascinating book, and I like that the stories are centered around a person. I would think that brings the islands alive, rather than just citing stats and whatnot.

    1. Paz: But of course. A friend of mine who has lived near 56th St. on the East side all his life, always tells people that he lives on a very small island.

  5. When they were little, my sons loved to lay maps out on the floor, lay on their bellies, and study them for hours.That was the ultimate in travel of the imagination. This book sounds like a treasure!

    1. Krsi and Sheryl: I make it a point to give little kids gifts of maps and atlases. Even at 3, my grandson wants to know where HE is on a map. From there it is just a step to where you WANT to be.

      1. what a great gift idea — and not one I’d thought of, though I spent hours with maps and globes too when I was a kid. I’m borrowing this idea for the children in my life. and perhaps the adults as well.

    1. Stephanie: Yep, an artist, writer AND typographer, which makes for very interesting books. She designs and typesets her own. Unfortunately I don’t know if we can get her others in the U.S. and in English.

  6. Ooooh! We have a huge Atlas. Living on an island in the Pacific makes us especially aware of other islands. This looks like a good Xmas present for some folks I know.

  7. I felt like I was visiting an island when I read THE SEX LIFE OF CANNIBALS. I think that’s the closest I’ve gotten to a truly exotic island experience.

    Oh, except for going to the Apostle Islands — the islands in the heart of Lake Superior. Those are lovely and mostly untouched.

  8. I visited an interesting island located in the Snake River near the Oregon Trail. A friend of mine conducted an archeological dig there…around the turn of the last century three bachelors lived there. They kept goats and rolled tobacco and licorice to make cigars, which they sold in town for supplies. It must have been an interesting life on the Snake River!

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