Every map is the result and the exercise of colonial violence
5/5 Penguin ‘Every map is the result and the exercise of colonial violence,’ writes graphic designer and novelist Judith Schalansky in her introduction to this collection of 50 maps and short descriptions of small islands. The book’s subtitle is ‘Fifty islands I have not visited and never will’, which – true or not – harks back to the author’s birth in former East Germany, a country that disappeared off maps in 1990.
The beautiful grey-and-white drawings of atolls, sunken volcanoes, ice-clad fastnesses, unknown islets and more familiar ‘big’ small islands (Easter, Ascension, Pitcairn etc), surrounded by cool duck-eggblue sea are an artistic affront to the colonial legacy of cartography. Schalansky’s art, and her myth-laden histories of her chosen islands, place these often uninhabited dots of rock at the centre. For her, remoteness is an asset, a spur to conceiving paradises, refuges, whole worlds of exile and, of course, the state of utter isolation.
Winner of the German Arts Foundation’s 2009 prize for most beautiful book, the Atlas of Remote Islands is a gorgeous concoction. Many attractive books are published every year, but this one inspires beautiful thoughts too. Christine Lo’s translation is precise and elegant, guiding the reader through the pages, daydreaming, running a finger over the mountains and foreshores, and plotting an escape. Next time you’re thinking of a budget break, buy this instead; rarely has armchair travel been so far-flung and romantic.