50 islands I will never see

Without having grown up, like Judith Schalansky, isolated in East Germany,  I also took long voyages of thought in the pages of my atlas as a child (and I still do), letting my finger wander through deserts, my eyes gaze at the mountain ranges, my spirit knock about the ocean strewn with distant islands. And so I was bowled over by her book, Atlas of Remote Islands, (remote, not abandoned), where, with a beautiful text on her imagined wanderings and her fascination with desert or distant islands, she presents fifty maps of unlikely islands; superbly drawn maps, in which the islands seem like grey-brown jewels in a screen of marine blue. ‘Fifty islands that I have never visited, and will never visit,’ she says; me neither, no doubt. Some of them resonate with history: Iwo Jima, Sainte-Hélène, Pâques, Robinson Crusoe, Pitcairn. Others, confections of French Empire, evoke my philatelic and cartographic childhood: Clipperton, Tromelin, Amsterdam, Saint-Paul. Those in the Arctic and Antarctic are discoveries, starting of course with Lonely Island. And perhaps I would go at least for a day to Brava, in the archipelago of Cape Verde.

Each map has, en regard, a short written history, a poetic narrative vignette, to enrich rather than describe the reverie. Or, more often, the nightmare, the abandonment of the slaves of Tromelin, the folly of Victoriano Alvarez, King of Clipperton, or the burial of Allan George Ramsay to the sound of bagpipes at Laurie Island. Above, her beautiful map of Deception Island, in the South Shetlands, a treatment station for whale oil, inhabited by two hundred Norwegian men and one woman, the captain’s wife; today the island is uninhabited.

This superb book won the prize for the most beautiful book at the Fondation Allemande pour les Art in 2009: it is time that cartography is recognized as an art, and that this book be grouped in the arts section (not travel).

Addendum from November 5th: Although the maps look similar, this strikes me as a very different work from that of David Renaud, both in form and in magnitude, shown four years ago in Metz.

En français.

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