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Searching for Crusoe: A Journey Among the Last Real Islands
Synopses & Reviews
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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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