A delightful, enlightening book that employs islands as jumping-off points for essays on a wide range of topics from A(nthropology) to Z(oology).
Chamberlin (Emeritus, English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of Toronto; A Covenant in Wonder with the World, 2012, etc.) introduces each of his island narratives with a bit of history: an entry from the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia of 1830, followed by an excerpt from some early observer’s commentary. Then, there’s no telling where he may take us. The principal islands featured here are Jamaica, Tahiti, Iceland, the Galápagos and Newfoundland, but there are dozens of others, near and far, small and large, real and imaginary. His chapter on Jamaica expands from landscape and people into culture, myths, language, why settlers came there and the larger question of why populations migrate. From Tahiti, Chamberlin launches into the remarkable prowess of Polynesian sailors, the hazards of ocean navigating and the reactions of early European explorers. Iceland leads to a discussion of volcanoes, the appearance and disappearance of islands, and the shifting of tectonic plates. Not surprisingly, the Galápagos chapter introduces the unique flora and fauna that shaped Darwin’s thinking about the origin of species, and bleak, glacier-shaped Newfoundland offers a tale of a place whose once-rich fisheries have disappeared and where people are now asking themselves whether it is time to depart their desolate land. Some passages demand to be read aloud: lists of the names of plants and birds found in the Caribbean and a traditional Polynesian chant from Raiatea, near Tahiti, that directed early sailors on how to navigate their way across the Pacific. Islands in plays, novels and movies, islands in legend and history, and even planet Earth, that island we all inhabit, all are objects of wonder and speculation for Chamberlin, who asks us to think about what they mean to us and what they tell us about our world and about ourselves, our history and our future.
A slim book that takes readers on a mind-expanding journey.