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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Atlas of Remote Islands

Lonely Island, where ‘The evacuation order came today. Pouring the water out. Turned off diesel. The station is...’ (illegible).

Bear Island, whose tallest peak can be found in the Miseryfjellet district.

Rudolf Island, ‘thus far and no further’.

St Kilda, where ‘eight-day sickness’ carried away two-thirds of newborn babies.

Ascension Island, one big desolate hub for spy satellites and intercontinental missile tracking systems.

Brava in the Cape Verde Islands, to whose silky chanteuse Mayra Andrade I say brava, bravissima.

Annobón, whose name in Pagalu means ‘parrot’.

St Helena, a witty palindrome for which exceeded Napoleon’s abilities, after his sterling efforts in Elba.

Trinidade, haunt of UFOs.

Bouvet Island, the mystery of whose empty boat will never be solved (who went there? why? where did they go?).

Tristan da Cunha, subject of a chapter in Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Southern Thule, covered in ash and penguin guano but planted with a Union Jack somewhere amid the rubble of a derelict weather station.

Saint Paul Island, where a group of Bretons and Madagascans were sent to establish a spiny lobster cannery in the 1920s then abandoned when the company went bankrupt, spending six years there before the survivors were rescued.

South Keeling Islands, abode of hermit crabs.

Possession Island, where the river Styx flows into the sea.

Diego Garcia, whose black-skinned UK citizens were disgustingly made homeless to allow the construction of a US military base, in sharp contrast to the white-skinned UK citizens whose government went to war to defend their right to the Falklands.

Amsterdam Island, temporary home of porn-addled meteorologists.

Christmas Island, home to warring hundreds of millions of crabs and ants.

Tromelin, named for the Frenchman who rescued its abandoned shipwrecked slaves.

Napuka, or Disappointment Islands, with never a bite to eat or anything else to deflect a boatload of Portuguese sailors’ thoughts from cannibalism.

Rapa Iti, which mystically called, in a language he could never have learned, to a French boy half a world away, haunting his dreams: a call the boy, Marc Liblin, somehow contrived to answer, meeting a Rapan woman by the purest of chances and going to live there; an entirely unbelievable yet, it seems, true story.

Robinson Crusoe Island, where Alexander Selkirk was shipwrecked, rather than on (more naturally, wouldn’t you think) the nearby Alejandro Selkirk Island.

Howland Island, almost but never quite reached by the ill-fated Amelia Earhart.

Macquarie Island, paradise for penguins and petrels.

Fangataufa, where boom! go French hydrogen bombs.

Atlasov Island, whose ‘atlas of’ lends itself to a very obvious pun.

Taongi Atoll, grave of the Sarah Joe.

Norfolk Island, where, no, please, God no, please no, its convict inhabitants would yell, groan and cry.

Pukapuka, free love island.

Antipodes Island, discovered, abandoned.

Floreana, whose utopian German community in the 1930s got up to much murderous mayhem contributing to the extinction of the indigenous mockingbird.

Banaba, whose islanders practice exposure of the dead rather than burial, and were treated with barbaric cruelty by their Japanese occupiers during the war.

Campbell Island, site of a splendidly pointless scientific expedition in 1874 involving a trip all the way from France to see something that ended up being blocked by a cloud.

Pingelap, home of the colour-blind.

Easter Island, still treeless (you fools!).

Pitcairn Island, home of child rapists and enthusiastic blogger-defenders of child rapists.

Semisopochnoi, where the foxes are blue.

Clipperton Atoll, good grief, what a story (smash him! smash his face in!).

Raoul Island, where the New Zealand insists on sending volunteers for year-long residencies, quite why I cannot make out, never mind what they do there.

Socorro Island, home to a large pig population despite the absence of fresh water.

Iwo Jima, the iconic photographic image of which was in fact staged.

St George Island, last redoubt of the now-vanished Arctic sea cow.

Tikopia, infanticide central.

Pagan, where ‘they say the volcano is not dangerous’ (not anymore they don’t).

Cocos Island, where they still ain’t found that treasure.

Takuu, where you’d better have a pair of wellies handy.

Laurie Island, where the ‘pride o’ oor land lies cauld in the clay’.

Deception Island, where fumaroles spew toxic gas.

Franklin Island, which commemorates a man who never went there and died in the frozen wastes of the other pole instead.

Peter I Island, where ‘there is nothing more to say’.

Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Island I have not visited and never will has to be one of the most delightful and beautiful things I have read in a long time.

I recommend this book.

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