I’m all for eccentric books, and this is certainly one. Translated from Norwegian, it’s an earnest but often entertaining assembly of miscellaneous facts and comments concerning fifty wildly assorted territories across the world, from Sicily to Upper Yafa, which at one time or another since 1840 have ceased to be political entities. While it includes eyewitness accounts, historical interpretations and ruminations on relevant music, films and occasional recipes, it is based fundamentally on the author’s own stamp collection. In creating this, he tells us, he has aimed to include one stamp from every country that has issued stamps since the original Penny Black, and he collects only used examples. He likes to lick the backs of them because he feels it directly associates him with lickers of the past, and every chapter of his book is illustrated with a licked example from his collection (he has also eaten his way through many of the cited recipes, he says, ‘as a way of grounding myself’).
Enriched rather than hampered by such peculiarities, Nowherelands is full of learned and curious interest. I open it at random, for example, at the chapter about Elobey, Annobon and Corisco, population 2,950, area 35 square kilometres, period of existence as an entity 1777–1909. I bet you’ve never heard