THE SECRET ISLANDS by Franklin Russell
Kirkus Star


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This is a magically well-written ornithological binge in flight from civilization, by the author of Argen The Gull and Watchers at the Pond. New Zealand born Russell, too long caged on Manhattan, longs to visit some remote islands. He finds them off the coast of Newfoundland, almost solely inhabited by gulls, petrels and near-relatives of the great auk. Although he is physically stimulated by the outdoor life, he is also plunged into exhausting speculation about the meaning of life and death in the natural orders. The lives of the hundreds of birds he observes seem anything but purposeful, and he is depressed by a sense of vicious waste (paralleling his own experience-- his wife apparently jilted him for his best friend. Ah, Herzog!) He does discover some birds whose nobility redeems nature-- ptarmigan and petrel. And this book has two chapters which are classics of atmospheric exposition, a sortie with cod-fishermen before dawn, and a visit to Funk Island. Funk Island is both incubator and charnel house for a mixed bird population that has no scavengers, so that the dead rot densely among the living. Russell's wasteland scenery is climactic, effective, and this is natural history with philosophical overtones.

Publisher: Norton