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1 Remote Warehouse Travel Writing- General

Searching for Crusoe: A Journey Among the Last Real Islands

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Searching for Crusoe: A Journey Among the Last Real Islands Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

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CRUSOE'S ISLAND--MAS A TIERRA

The modern obsession with islands starts with Robinson Crusoe, so I

started with his island, Mas a Tierra, the Pacific Island four hundred

miles off the coast of Chile in the Juan Fernandez archipelago, where a

Scottish seaman named Alexander Selkirk was marooned for four and a half

years between 1704 and 1709. After his rescue by the privateer Captain

Woodes Rogers, Selkirk recounted his story to the journalist Richard

Steele. It is believed that Daniel Defoe read both Steele's resulting

article and Woodes Rogers's book, A Cruising Voyage round the World, and

incorporated Selkirk's experiences into his novel Robinson Crusoe. Some

scholars suspect Defoe met and interviewed Selkirk, and when a Selkirk

descendant recently sold his birthplace to settle inheritance taxes, she

lambasted Defoe as "a man of no scruples" who had stolen and distorted

her ancestor's story.

I first encountered Mas a Tierra in Two Years Before the Mast, Richard

Henry Dana's account of his 1834 voyage from Boston to California. Dana

called it a classic island, the most romantic on earth, and praised its

rushing streams, lofty mountains, rich soil, plentiful fruit, and

aromatic trees. It had a "peculiar charm," he wrote, perhaps because of

its solitary position in the vast expanse of the South Pacific, and "the

associations which everyone has connected with it in their childhood

from reading Robinson Crusoe," ones that gave it "the sacredness of an

early home."

To reach this sacred home, which Chile has renamed Isla Robinson Crusoe,

I traveled to Santiago, telephoned the offices of Transportes Aereos

Robinson Crusoe (TARC), and was instructed to be in my hotel lobby at

3:00 p.m. with $420 in cash. The TARC agent was a stone-faced lady in

rhinestone glasses who counted my money twice before parting with a

ticket. After snapping her purse shut on my dollars she warned that the

rains had started early this year and we had already entered the season

of autumn storms, when flights could be delayed for days or weeks. But I

was just happy to be buying a plane ticket to Isla Crusoe. An island of

two hundred people four hundred miles from the Chilean mainland would

not have had air service at all without the highly prized lobsters that

were shipped to Santiago on return flights.

TARC was one of several small companies using the antique Ce- rillos

airport. When I arrived at midmorning, the tarmac was shrouded in fog

and the terminal deserted. A little girl unlocked a kiosk selling

newspapers and snacks, then curled up on the counter and fell asleep. An

old crone cleaned the bathrooms, then locked them. A pay telephone rang

and rang, echoing through the empty hall.

There were three other passengers. Carlos was a burly young man with a

face lost in whiskers and the loping gait of a yeti. He said he had

taken a leave of absence from the school where he taught and was going

to Isla Crusoe for a week "to forget certain things." But he carried a

polar anorak, his luggage exceeded the ten-kilogram allowance, and I

suspected he had suffered some crushing tragedy and planned on marooning

himself for much longer.

Irene was a parakeet-sized woman in her sixties who had brought along a

friend, the plump and timid Alicia, as her silent caboose. Thirty years

in the Atacama Desert had sun-blasted her face into a dalmatian pattern

and left her straw-colored hair brittle and spontaneous- combustion dry.

She made a theatrical meal of every sentence and introduced herself by

excoriating everything that had ruined Chile: the corrupt politicians,

the McDonald's hamburgers, and owning more things instead of touching

more people. Whenever her family or the Atacama became too much, she

said, "I threaten to move to this marvelous island and always I imagine

living there alone." Her sons had finally given her a ticket and said,

"All right, then, go!"

She wore a thin sweater and admitted having left behind her windbreaker.

She had it ready to pack, she said, "But then I asked myself, 'Why do I

need that thing in paradise?' " She stared at the peeling ceiling and

shut her eyes. "It will be how everyone should live. No noise or

contamination. The islanders will be gentle people who know how to enjoy

life. I may stay forever."

I began describing Selkirk's despair upon first wading ashore. She

looked appalled and threw up a hand. "Stop! Oh, please stop, dear man.

Don't say anything more! If this island is not paradise, I don't wish to

know."

The four of us stood alone in the middle of the empty terminal as

speakers played, "Put your hand in the hand of the man. . . ." I

remembered the Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None, in

which a mysterious host invites ten strangers to a private island off

the south coast of England, then murders them one by one.

TARC's Santiago manager appeared. He swooped his arms and delivered a

lecture about the complexities of landing on Isla Crusoe. The dirt

runway was eight hundred meters long and curved upward, like a ski jump.

Beyond it was a cliff. Strong winds were blowing across the airport

today, making landing treacherous. We would wait another two hours,

until the telephone in the hall rang with the next weather report from

Isla Crusoe.

The delay stretched to two days and when we reassembled we had gained

another passenger, a young Chilean named Luz with the high cheekbones of

an Indian princess. She had graduated from college in the United States

and was flying out to visit her mother, a recent divorcee who had moved

to Isla Crusoe on an impulse and was supporting herself by teaching the

children of the lobster fishermen to speak English. Cerillos airport

remained forlorn and foggy. As we climbed aboard, our pilot, a baldy

wearing thick spectacles and a filthy cardigan, was kicking the tires.

The manager and his wife handed out homemade sandwiches and waved

handkerchiefs. I fell asleep and woke two hours later as we descended

toward a rugged green island waving a tentacle of brown desert into the

ocean. The contrast was stark: a tangle of craggy, thickly forested

peaks shooting from a boiling sea to the north, an arid red plateau of

rock and dust to the south: King Kong's island married to a finger of

Lawrence of Arabia desert.

We landed in the desert and taxied past a smashed Cessna to a shack. The

wind had blown out every window and piles of scrap metal kept its tin

roof from taking flight. A mestizo with shock-treatment eyes pumped our

hands as we descended the stairs. "Marcel is our fireman and

weatherman," the pilot said. "He tells us if it's safe to land."

Irene pirouetted. "It's wonderful, wonderful!" she shouted. "I'm always

saying I'll move here, and now . . ." She took in the peeling shack and

the dust devils dancing across the runway. "And now . . . I guess we'll

see."

Marcel roped our luggage onto a Land Rover and we lurched down a

crumbling track cut into the caldera of an extinct volcano. A fishing

boat waited at the jetty below. We boarded it and spent almost two hours

plowing through a roller-coaster sea, past skyscraper cliffs ending in

ridges sharp enough to slice an onion.

The crewmen were mahogany-tanned and loquacious. They said they used

these razorback ridges to mark their lobster traps and pointed out a

jagged pile of rocks nicknamed, for obvious reasons, "the Widow-Maker."

They claimed it was not really that windy (in New England, gale force

flags would have been flying) and called this cauldron of whitecaps a

gentle sea. The new moon often brought a five-day window of calm weather

like this. After that, watch out.

They boasted that their island was a United Nations World Biosphere

Reserve because it had so many rare plants. Its lobsters were the

sweetest in the world because they came from the lobster latitudes of

the Southern Hemisphere. Its seals were native only to this archipelago

and the most beautiful on earth because of their rare mixture of gray

and black hairs. And nowhere else could you find Isla Crusoe's red

hummingbirds, or the luma tree, whose hard wood was prized by Chilean

policemen for their billy clubs, or the wild cabbage that nourished

"Alejandro" Selkirk.

As we rounded the next-to-last headland before the island's only

settlement, San Juan Bautista, spotlights of sun fell through the

firmament-of-heaven clouds, illuminating a cave with a low stone wall

set in its mouth. "Crusoe's cave," the fishermen chorused-- the first

evidence I had that on this island Selkirk and Crusoe were

interchangeable.

An amphitheater of green mountains rose steeply from the shore and

surrounded San Juan's ramshackle warehouses and bungalows. The highest

mountain, the tombstone-shaped El Yunque, was so rugged that less than a

dozen people have reached its summit, and so dark and sinister that an

indigenous people would have made it the seat of a fearsome god.

Someone had fastened ten richly illustrated boards with poems about

Selkirk and Crusoe to pilings lining the town wharf. Before I could

translate them, a jaunty man wearing a country club golf outfit tossed

my bag into a wheelbarrow he pushed across the street to his

boardinghouse, the Villa Green. "Call me Robinson," he said, explaining

it was a popular first name for island boys. There was also a Hosteria

Defoe, and a Posada de Robinson, where I drank a beer, alone. I drank a

second one, also alone, in a three-table bar where a yellowed clipping

recounted how the British navy had sunk the German warship Dresden in

this harbor during World War I. One survivor had become a castaway,

living as a hermit for fifteen years and becoming known as "the German

Robinson."

There were more Crusoean echoes in cottages that appeared slapped

together from driftwood, backyard greenhouses growing pro- duce to ward

off scurvy, and the brave trappings of civilization. School- boys wore

blazers and ties, like their mainland counterparts, and the bust of the

naval hero decorated a plaza where I never saw a single soul walk or

sit.

You could hardly blame Isla Crusoe's inhabitants for confusing Crusoe

and Selkirk. The government had renamed Mas a Tierra for the fictional

Crusoe, and visitors came with his name rather than Selkirk's on their

lips. When Americans on their way to the California gold fields stopped

here in 1849 and 1850, they had been convinced it was the real home of

the real Crusoe. One miner called it "the most fascinating spot, to me,

on the face of the globe!" He wrote in his diary: "Tomorrow I shall see

the enchanted isle! Not the picture of fancy but the real ground . . .

perhaps see the cave that Robinson dug, or the ruins of his little

hovel." At the Villa Green, I read a 1928 National Geographic article

titled "A Voyage to the Island Home of Robinson Crusoe," in which the

author waited until the penultimate paragraph to point out that Crusoe

was not a real sailor who had been shipwrecked on Mas a Tierra. When

excursion steamers from Valparaiso called during the first half of the

century, a man dressed as Crusoe, complete with parrot, umbrella, and

peaked goatskin hat, and accompanied by a redheaded Friday, had poled

out on a raft to meet them. Even in Largo, Selkirk's Scottish hometown,

there was a Crusoe Hotel with a Juan Fernandez Bar and Castaway

restaurant, but nothing named after Selkirk.

I soon adopted the local habit of confusing the two men. When puzzled

stares met my request for directions to Selkirk's lookout, I asked for

Crusoe's lookout. I began calling the cave where Selkirk stored his

supplies "Robinson's cave," and caught myself wondering if any of the

Spanish cannons lying in the grass or mounted along the waterfront dated

from Crusoe's time. But I remembered Selkirk when my ankles were brushed

by the descendants of the feral cats he had trained to lie at his feet

and ward off rats.

San Juan had no venerable government buildings, historic churches, or

large buildings. Everyone looked to the sea for their living, depending

on the lobsters that could bring twenty dollars in a Santiago

restaurant. A century before, the islanders had simply tossed chunks of

goat meat along the shore and attracted swarms of lobsters. The lobsters

had since become more scarce and it was agreed that if they ever

disappeared, so would San Juan. Meanwhile, it was as silent and lonely

as a community of six hundred people could be. Lights twinkled at dusk,

but the only people about were children gathered in a bar to watch the

owner burn warts off his daughter's knee, and a half dozen adults

enjoying a favorite evening ritual, watching the red hummingbirds drink

nectar from bell-shaped yellow flowers. When night fell, the streets

emptied, except for a boy kicking a soccer ball through the supports of

a gong, the island's only fire alarm.

I ate cold lobster, alone, in the Villa Green, surrounded by polished

wooden sideboards and wall calendars, and listening to the click of a

pendulum clock. I read in the hotel guest book about "lifelong ambitions

fulfilled," bird-watchers who had "come for the hummingbirds but found

so much more," and the joy of the world's most traveled disabled person

to find himself, at last, on "the famous island of Robinson Crusoe."

I returned to the wharf with a flashlight to read the poems. One spoke

of Selkirk sleeping with Odysseus, another of Crusoe's "island of

silence." On my way back to the hotel I bumped into Irene, who was

staying at a neighboring boardinghouse. She said, "You know, it is very

quiet on this island."

n

It was once believed that the silence and solitude of an uninhabited

island would drive a marooned seaman insane. A captain leaving behind a

loaded revolver was considered a humanitarian, and such acts of charity

explain why skeletons clutching rusted revolvers often greeted early

visitors to islands like Mas a Tierra. The fact that Selkirk, who had a

musket, powder, and bullets, survived four years without committing

suicide made him a successful castaway.

I had planned on making a solitary pilgrimage to his cave at Puerto

Ingles so I could stare at the horizon and wonder if I would have done

as well, or become a skeleton clutching a revolver. But Robinson Green

had warned against walking there over the sharp ridge separating it from

San Juan. Last month, this ridge had defeated a party of Germans who had

come from weeks of hiking the Andes. It was most likely the same one

Selkirk tumbled down while chasing a goat, escaping death only because

he grabbed the animal and cushioned his fall. The Villa Green's

proprietor recommended traveling around the headland by boat, so I

joined Irene, Alicia, and Luz, who had hired a fisherman named Daniel to

take them in his skiff.

The rocky shoreline and rough sea made it impossible to land at Puerto

Ingles. Daniel jumped onto a rock with the bowline, shouting, "Have

faith in the fishermen of Juan Fernandez." We disembarked one by one,

grabbing his hand as waves hurled the boat toward the rocks. Irene

almost skidded into the sea, and she staggered ashore shivering and

frightened.

We stumbled down the beach over polished rocks the size of a baby's head

while Daniel rattled off a potted history of Selkirk's ex- periences.

Then we climbed to a bluff overlooking a broad, well- watered valley

where he pointed out the remains of a house built fifty years before by

an optimistic German farmer who had imported the amaryllis growing wild

among the ruined walls. There was water in a creek; there were rabbits,

wild oregano, and enough wood for years of cooking and signal fires. An

army ranger could have lived off this land for months, but he would

always have known that he was on a training course, and that a boat

would one day round the headland to fetch him.

I slipped into Selkirk's cave while the others beachcombed. Its walls

bore the scars of centuries of graffiti artists and souvenir hunters.

Forty-niners heading to the California gold fields had caused some of

the worst damage. When their ships stopped to reprovision, they headed

to Crusoe's cave to mine for souvenirs they could sell in San Francisco.

J. Ross Brown, a passenger on a California-bound packet who wrote a book

about his voyage, Crusoe's Island, had found twenty prospectors at

Selkirk's cave. "They had battered away at the sides, top, and bottom of

the cave in their eager search for relics till they had left scarcely a

dozen square feet of the original surface," he reported. "Every man had

literally his pocket full of rocks." When Brown left, they were

proposing to search for gold in what they called "Crusoe's Valley," and

to annex Juan Fernandez to the United States.

The mouth of the cave faced the same beach where Selkirk first came

ashore. Nowadays, we would call the impulsive and bad-tempered Selkirk a

punk, and his family of notorious brawlers and malcontents

dysfunctional. He had been rebuked for behaving indecently in church, he

fought constantly with his family, and after one nasty punch-up he went

to sea with the notorious privateer William Dampier. Within a few years,

he was master of the Cinque Ports, a ship commanded by the equally

hot-tempered Captain Strandling. As the Cinque Ports neared Juan

Fernandez, he and Strandling quarreled over its condition. Selkirk

declared its recent repairs so slipshod that he would prefer being

marooned on Mas a Tierra to facing certain disaster at sea. To his

surprise, Strandling ordered him put ashore.

Selkirk had counted on other crewmen joining him. After the ship's boat

landed him alone at Puerto Ingles he must have taken stock of the

towering mountains and empty valley, weighing the prospect of starving

or dying of exposure here against perishing in Strandling's unseaworthy

ship, the horror of unending solitude against the pleasure of becoming

king of Mas a Tierra. As the Cinque Ports's crewmen pushed the skiff

back into the surf, he probably experienced some of the conflicting

emotions I sometimes feel upon arriving on a remote island: an

excitement at having at last reached such a silent, lonely place, and a

sudden impulse to escape it--to reboard whatever boat or plane has

brought me there, and go home.

According to Woodes Rogers, Selkirk jumped into the water at the last

minute and began swimming after the skiff, screaming that he had changed

his mind and begging to return to the ship.

Captain Strandling, so the story goes, replied, "Well, I have not

changed mine! Stay where you are and may you starve!"

According to Selkirk's testimony to Richard Steele, he was miserable for

his first eighteen months on Mas a Tierra and "grew dejected, languid,

and melancholy, scarcely able to refrain from doing himself Violence."

One Defoe biographer, Thomas Wright, depicted Selkirk as eating raw

shellfish and seal, afraid to go inland and contemplating suicide.

"Voices spoke to him both in the howlings of the sea in front and in the

murmur of the woods behind," Wright wrote. "The shore was creatured with

phantoms. Then--cooling his fevered brain--came sweet visions of his

childhood, the home at Largo, his mother, the fields he had rambled in,

the words he had heard in the old kirk, thoughts of God."

Selkirk told Steele he had cried, wandered aimlessly, refused to eat,

and remained at the shoreline, seldom lifting his eyes from the horizon.

Defoe's Crusoe was similarly distraught during his early days, beginning

his journal: "I, poor miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked,

during a dreadful storm . . . came ashore on this dismal, unfortunate

island, which I called the Island of Despair."

After overcoming his depression, Selkirk transformed this valley into

the kind of self-sufficient estate Defoe's Crusoe would build. He

gathered wild fruits and vegetables and trained himself to outrun and

tackle the goats that privateers had released to provide fresh meat when

they reprovisioned. He turned the chase into a game, notching the ears

of the goats he released and keeping score of those he ate. He dueled

with the sea lions like a matador, clubbing them before they could smash

him with their tails or grab him in their jaws. He flavored his goat

stews with wild turnips, parsnips, and parsley; boiled his lobsters with

a native pepper berry; gorged on black plums; sewed together a goatskin

cap and coat, using a nail as a needle; and discovered that pimento wood

made a clear-burning and fragrant fuel, good for light, heat, and

flavoring barbecued goat. He entertained himself by carving his name

into trees and by singing and dancing with his cats and kid goats. His

life was less luxurious than Crusoe's--no dairy, bakery, or three

plantations--but Defoe had given his Crusoe a more forgiving Caribbean

climate and allowed him to salvage tools, food, and ammunition from his

ship. Selkirk started with clothes and bedding, a gun and ammunition, a

knife, a kettle, and a Bible. Like Crusoe, he found solace in religion,

scheduling daily services and reading the Scriptures out loud to

preserve his ability to speak. Captain Woodes Rogers praised him for

being "a better Christian in his Solitude than ever he was before."

Steele reported that Selkirk's manner of life was "exquisitely pleasant"

and "he never had a Moment heavy on his hands." His nights were

"untroubled," his days "joyous" because of his "Practice of Temperance

and Exercise." His life became "one continual Feast." (Woodes Rogers's

account of Selkirk's rescue somewhat undermines the "joyous" business:

Selkirk burst from the bushes, "a Man cloth'd in Goat-Skins, who look'd

wilder than the first Owners of them," bellowing in an indecipherable

tongue. Only when he screamed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of Heaven and Earth . . ." did the sailors realize he was human.)

Crusoe was literature's first self-made man, not its first conspicuous

consumer. He created a comfortable life, but no more. He set aside time

for reading, writing, and worship, and celebrated his island for

removing him "from all the wickedness of the world." He concluded that

"all our discontents" sprang "from the want of thankfulness for what we

have." Selkirk made a similar point upon re- turning to Scotland,

insisting he had never been so happy as when he was a castaway on Mas a

Tierra and "not worth a farthing," leading Steele to conclude, "he is

happiest who confines his wants to natural necessities."

Before Selkirk marooned himself and Defoe marooned his fictional Crusoe,

tropical islands had been considered fearful places where sailors risked

the lonely death of a castaway or the spears of hostile natives. After

Selkirk and Crusoe, they were seen as places of redemption and

improvement, where you could escape the wickedness of the world, build

Utopia, and find God.

For almost two centuries, visitors to Isla Crusoe have described its

inhabitants as contented with their simple life and lacking ambition.

Richard Henry Dana called them "the laziest people on the face of the

earth" and said they passed the time taking long paseos and replacing

the boughs the wind blew from their roofs. They were even "too lazy to

speak fast." In 1992, an American couple, James and Mayme Bruce, made

almost identical observations in The Explorer's Journal, complaining

that the people were idle, showed "no curiosity or interest" in

visitors, and moved "at an agonizingly slow pace." In 1895, the

celebrated yachtsman Joshua Slocum stopped at the is- land for several

weeks during his single-handed circumnavigation of the globe. He

supported himself by making fresh doughnuts, which the islanders bought

with "ancient and curious coins" salvaged from the wreck of a Spanish

galleon. He noted that the adults were all healthy and the children all

beautiful, and reported: "There was not a lawyer or police officer among

them" and "The domestic economy of the island was simplicity itself. The

fashions of Paris did not affect the inhabitants; each dressed according

to his taste." He departed thinking, "Blessed island of Juan Fernandez!

Why Alexander Selkirk ever left you was more than I could make out."

Selkirk had prayed that a British ship would appear on the horizon, but

Daniel, the fisherman taking me to Puerto Ingles, worried about cruise

liners appearing and disgorging hundreds of tourists who would travel by

foot, donkey, and all-terrain vehicle to Selkirk's lookout. They might

eat a few lobster empanadas, and buy the wallets San Juan's women

stitched from fish skins, but they would also trample the lichen, pick

the rare cinnamon, spook the hummingbirds, and ruin the simple life of

an island where it is still remembered that passengers off excursion

boats once stripped bark from the chonta tree, threatening it with

extinction.

n

I met people on Isla Crusoe who had come to live a simple life removed

from the wickedness of the mainland. They praised the island for

offering clean air and water, plentiful food, and physical security, all

the "natural necessities." They liked it that no one was rich or poor,

and most transactions involved barter and credit. (Banknotes were so

scarce my smallest bills sent shopkeepers rummaging through drawers for

change, and one man had to shake coins from a piggy bank.) They feared

development more than solitude, exile to the mainland more than

isolation, and I heard several times how a teenager recently banished

for theft had been prostrate with grief, sobbing uncontrollably as he

boarded the steamer for Valparaiso.

I met the hawk-featured Marietta in the offices of the agency charged

with managing Chile's national parks, where she worked surrounded by

samples of the island's endemic species. She had come a few years before

with her two boys for a five-day holiday and had never left. Sure, she

sometimes missed la vida intelectual--the theaters, bookstores, and

museums--but there was no crime or pollution here, and plenty of food, if

you liked lobster. Her sons loved Isla Crusoe and identified with the

children in Swiss Family Robinson. "Here, I have time to think, to

listen to what is in here," she said, touching her chest.

She led me outside to a bluff overlooking the harbor and pointed to the

mist-shrouded mountains. Up there, in an inaccessible valley ringed by

sheer walls of rock, the single known wild specimen of a tree growing

only on Isla Crusoe clung to life. Several endemic plant species were

represented by only a few surviving specimens because the descendants of

Selkirk's goats had devoured the rest. This island still had the

greatest number of endemic species per square mile of anywhere on earth,

124 on its thirty-six square miles. They made it unique and special, and

made Marietta feel special for living on it. As she spoke, I noticed her

disconcerting habit, one I noticed among other islanders, of shooting

her eyes to the ocean, as if checking for . . . well, for what? A

steamer on the horizon? A longboat heading for the beach?

She put a finger to her lips. "Shhh . . . listen, and you will hear the

birds, and the ocean, and, finally, yourself." Her eyes jumped back to

the horizon and she said something I would hear elsewhere, that on a

"real" island you could see yourself surrounded by water. She often

climbed to Selkirk's lookout because from there, she explained, "I

cannot see any people or buildings, just water, everywhere, surrounding

me."

Synopsis:

They inspire feelings of great passion, serenity, and sometimes fear . . . they give people the opportunity to find themselves--or to lose their minds . . . they are revered as paradise or treated as junkyards . . . both haunted by and respectful of history . . . they are central to the myths and religions of many peoples throughout time . . . they provide a real, friendly community or the hell of repetitive social encounters . . . What is it about islands that has captivated millions of people around the world and through the centuries?

In a penetrating, brilliantly written book that weaves sociology, history, politics, personality, and ancient and popular culture into one compelling narrative, Thurston Clarke island-hops around the oceans of the world, searching for an explanation for the most passionate and enduring geographic love affair of all time--between humankind and islands.

Along the way Clarke visits the remote and silent Mas À Tierra, the island off the coast of Chile that inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe; tropical Banda Neira, one of the Spice Islands, where its self-crowned prince hopes for nothing less than nutmeg's complete and glorious revival; sleepy, simple Campobello, the Canadian island where Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his boyhood summers; Patmos, with its imposing mountaintop monastery; Malekula, once the most notorious cannibal island in the world; and Jura in Scotland's Hebrides, where George Orwell wrote 1984--the island that turned Clarke into a islomane, someone Lawrence Durrell says experiences an "indescribable intoxication" at finding himself in "a little world surrounded by the sea."

Despite colonialism and missionary conversions, wartime scars and shrinking coasts, islands have thrived. Though each island is unique in its own way, Clarke discovers that the islanders themselves are a distinct people-- tranquilized by their watery horizons yet sensitive to the first shift in weather, conservative yet more likely to drop their inhibitions because no one is looking. And over every island falls the shadow of Robinson Crusoe, persuading us that islands are more liberating than confining, more contemplative than lonely, more holy than barbaric because we have been "removed from all the wickedness of the world." In a stunning work of wit, adventure, and incisive exploration, Thurston Clarke brings a unique passion to dazzling life.

About the Author

US

Product Details

ISBN:
9780345411433
Subtitle:
A Journey Among the Last Real Islands
Author:
Clarke, Thurston
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Location:
New York
Subject:
Geology
Subject:
Essays & Travelogues
Subject:
Voyages and travels
Subject:
Islands
Subject:
General Travel
Subject:
travel;islands
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Series Volume:
106-494
Publication Date:
20010130
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
9.58x6.50x1.18 in. 1.42 lbs.

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Searching for Crusoe: A Journey Among the Last Real Islands Used Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345411433 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , They inspire feelings of great passion, serenity, and sometimes fear . . . they give people the opportunity to find themselves--or to lose their minds . . . they are revered as paradise or treated as junkyards . . . both haunted by and respectful of history . . . they are central to the myths and religions of many peoples throughout time . . . they provide a real, friendly community or the hell of repetitive social encounters . . . What is it about islands that has captivated millions of people around the world and through the centuries?

In a penetrating, brilliantly written book that weaves sociology, history, politics, personality, and ancient and popular culture into one compelling narrative, Thurston Clarke island-hops around the oceans of the world, searching for an explanation for the most passionate and enduring geographic love affair of all time--between humankind and islands.

Along the way Clarke visits the remote and silent Mas À Tierra, the island off the coast of Chile that inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe; tropical Banda Neira, one of the Spice Islands, where its self-crowned prince hopes for nothing less than nutmeg's complete and glorious revival; sleepy, simple Campobello, the Canadian island where Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his boyhood summers; Patmos, with its imposing mountaintop monastery; Malekula, once the most notorious cannibal island in the world; and Jura in Scotland's Hebrides, where George Orwell wrote 1984--the island that turned Clarke into a islomane, someone Lawrence Durrell says experiences an "indescribable intoxication" at finding himself in "a little world surrounded by the sea."

Despite colonialism and missionary conversions, wartime scars and shrinking coasts, islands have thrived. Though each island is unique in its own way, Clarke discovers that the islanders themselves are a distinct people-- tranquilized by their watery horizons yet sensitive to the first shift in weather, conservative yet more likely to drop their inhibitions because no one is looking. And over every island falls the shadow of Robinson Crusoe, persuading us that islands are more liberating than confining, more contemplative than lonely, more holy than barbaric because we have been "removed from all the wickedness of the world." In a stunning work of wit, adventure, and incisive exploration, Thurston Clarke brings a unique passion to dazzling life.
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