"A Journey among the Last Real Islands"

Searching for Paradise    by Thurston Clarke

Subtitle:"A journey among the last real islands"; original title:"Searching for Crusoe")

viii+342 pp., Ballantine, 2001  ....   reviewed by David P. Stern


      Life on an island has a special quality, a mix of independence and isolation which often creates unusual society. Thurston Clarke describes visits to perhaps 20 islands, scattered around the globe. They are carefully selected--not too big (e.g. Jamaica, Mauritius, Malta), nor too small. Like Tolstoy's unhappy families, each island is different. In most of them, isolation has driven people to greater togetherness--but not always.

      The book starts with "Mas a Tierra" off the coast of Chile, now renamed "Isla Robinson Crusoe" because that was where a Scottish seaman named Alexander Selkirk was marooned for more than four years, providing the foundation to Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe." The facts about Selkirk are well known, but on the last island in the book, Utila off the coast of Honduras, Clarke finds people who claim no, it was THEIR island.

      In between you find Banda Neira in the Spice Islands, whose welfare became the old-age hobby of a famous native son (though, as the epilogue tells, even he could not prevent religious riots). You visit Espiritu Santo, the locale of "South Pacific," and the Maldive archipelago, whose average elevation above sea level is just 1 meter. Its natives fearfully watch global warming raise the sea level, and yet they add to it in their own way. There is Niihau, the Hawaiian island whose owners struggle to keep it pristine, and Jura and Eigg off Scotland, offering refuge from urban Britain. And others...

      You will enjoy this travelogue. Buy it, ration yourself to one chapter per evening, and you will have two weeks of eye-opening reading, about wonderful and strange places. You may well never set foot on any of them, but Clarke's narrative is the next best thing.


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Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
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Last updated 18 January 2002