Selkirk's Island by Diana Southami - review by Sarah Wheeler

Sarah Wheeler

A Pistol, a Bible and A Thousand Fur Seals

Selkirk's Island

By

Weidenfield & Nicolson 246pp £14.99 order from our bookshop
 

Few stories exert a more universal appeal than that of the castaway. Each generation returns greedily to the theme: last summer a television docusoap, more recently the Oscar–nominated Tom Hanks biopic. Now, in this stylish and engaging work of narrative history, Diana Souhami takes the most influential castaway of all time and frames his adventure within the story of a small archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It is an account of isolation and claustrophobia, of swashbuckling adventure and spiritual tranquility; and of the myth, rather than the reality, of redemption.

Six hundred miles off the coast of Chile, the Juan Fernandez Islands were briefly colonised by Spaniards in the 1590s. Apart from that unsuccessful interlude, for much of their history they remained an uninhabited place, fecund and dense with ferns. Lured by the gleam of gold up and down the

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