At about ten o’clock Sunday morning, February 11, 1979, Scott Moorman and some buddies left the east coast of Maui in their motorboat Sarah Joe. It was a fine, sunny day for fishing until the wind kicked up just before noon and turned into a hurricane by evening. At five o’clock, the Sarah Joe was reported missing. Searches began yet not a trace of the boat and the men were found. Then, nine-and-a-half years later, the wrecked boat and Moorman’s bones were found on the beach of Taongi, the northernmost and driest atoll of the Marshall Islands 3,750 km from Hawaii.
That atoll is what you see here in a page spread from Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, which features 50 isolated islands around the globe. The majority are uninhabited, and those that have residents tend to be inhabited for research or military purposes. This is a gorgeous book, first published in German, translated by Christine Lo, and sub-titled Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will.
I, too, will never set foot on these remote places. Seeing their dots on the book’s world maps, however, was like suddenly seeing the birds in my backyard, small components of the universe typically overlooked and dismissed because they don’t figure into world news or our own remote islands of self. One wouldn’t vacation on Semisopochnoi, which may very well be the westernmost part of the United States. No one has lived there — ever, Schalansky tells us. While mainstream atlases tend to treat remote islands, such as Semisopochnoi, as “footnotes to the mainland, expendable to an extent,” they are “disproportionately more interesting.” I second that.
In her introduction, Schalansky writes: “It is high time for cartography to take its place among the arts, and for the atlas to be recognized as literature, for it is more than worthy of its original name: theatrum orbis terrarum, the theatre of the world.”