Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will Dip into this lovely small atlas anywhere and enjoy the fruits of Schalansky’s many years’ labor cataloging, mapping, labeling “Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will.” The drawings have a timeline and scale; they are labelled with longitude and latitude and are pinpointed on a globe. Each drawn island has contour with shading showing mountains, water, and plains. Each location sports a short introductory essay often including reports related by the earliest discoverers, or seafaring men who came upon these remote locations and told of what they found. The flyleaves show the islands pinpointed all together. A masterpiece of careful description, this wallet of dreams is something special for the sailor in all of us.

Consider this short essay about Pagan, a Pacific island 2,670 km from Manila and 840 km from Iwo Jima, discovered in 1669 by Diego Luis de Sanvitores:
The tallest mountain range in the world is underwater – where the Pacific plate converges with the Philippine plate in the Marianas Trench, several kilometres deep – and its smoking volcano cones rise out of the ocean.
Pagan is a double island of two of these volcanoes held together by a land mass. At its narrowest point, it is only a few hundred metres wide.

The village of Shomushon lies at the foot of Mount Pagan in the north. Its people want to be evacuated because smoke has been rising from the summit for some time, and there have been earthquakes. But no one takes any notice. They say the volcano is not dangerous.

On 15 May 1981, it erupts, spewing fire, hurling rocks and shooting fountains of lava into the air. The sky turns black; it rains ash and smells of sulphur and burning earth. The raised huts in Shomushon shake, and a flood of lava spread though the palm trees. Soon the first crackle of fire in the village is heard. The mayor sends a message by short-wave radio - This is it! Come get us! – before the sixty villagers flee, crossing the narrow neck of land to the south. They take refuge behind a mountain ridge and pray to be spared from the glowing river.

When they are evacuated by air shortly after, only the rooftops of Shomushon can be seen above the layer of brown ash. On Pagan, there are now 20 million tonnes of tuff stone, the material of the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla.
I am offering a giveaway of this paperback to a reader of this blog. Sign up below and I will use to choose a respondent December 15, 2014. Happy holidays!

A winner has been chosen! Thank you everyone!

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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