In 1704 a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, was abandoned on a remote South Sea island. Rescued more than four years later, Selkirk became a celebrity, as well as the model for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Diana Souhami's Selkirk's Island separates truth from literature: although the ever-ingenious Crusoe uses the indigenous goats on his island for clothing and food, Selkirk's goats had been brought from Europe, were disrupting the local ecosystem, and were probably used by Selkirk for sexual release.
One of the most famous castaway cases of the following century is covered in two new books, Mutiny on the Globe, by Thomas Farel Heffernan, and Demon of the Waters , by Gregory Gibson. In 1824, an apparent psychopath, Samuel Comstock, engineered a savage mutiny on a whaling ship and headed for Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. His intention was to establish his own Kurtz-style kingdom; after a bizarre series of killings and desertions that claimed Comstock's life, only two crew members were left, among inhabitants who were unsure whether to trust them or not. The men became expert in the native culture, adopting the local dress and compiling a list of island vocabulary that has elicited praise from scholars of the Marshallese language.
In a shrinking world, castaways are rarer. Magellania, a posthumous novel by Jules Verne translated from the French by Benjamin Ivry, tells the story of Kaw-djer, a mysterious white man who lives among the people of Magellania (at the tip of South America). But the outside world keeps intruding. Chile and Argentina jostle for possession of Magellania, jeopardizing the isolation of a voluntary castaway who does not want to be rescued. (Leo Carey)
Of the six novels that Jules Verne left unpublished at the time of his death, five were heavily revised and rewritten by his son, Michel. In recent years, two of the original manuscripts have been published as they were left by Verne. Magellania, which is set among the islands at the southern tip of South America, is the third. In it, Verne follows the exploits of Kaw-djer, a European whose rallying cry is "Neither God nor master!" When Chile takes possession of the remaining free islands, he contemplates suicide, but is deterred by the need to save a large group of shipwrecked pioneers. Verne sketches out theories of politics and self-government in this condensed tale; it is clearly half-finished, but still powerful in its portrayal of a man seeking the last unsettled corner of the earth. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Nearly a century after his death, five "lost" manuscripts of Verne are part of the SF master's return to active publication (Invasion of the Sea, The Mysterious Island, both 2002). This latest, first published in French in 1909 after being massively rewritten by Verne's son Michel and now stripped to its original spare form, is an unabashedly speculative novel of civilization and nationhood, and a powerful man who yearns to be free from both. In Magellania, the archipelago forming the southernmost reach of South America, a primal scene occurs: a native stalks a wild guanaco and is pounced on by a jaguar, which is then shot by a mysterious but revered European, Kaw-djer, who arrived in the islands some years before. Kaw-djer takes the mauled native back to the man's village in his longboat, but the man dies before they arrive. Saddened, Kaw-djer returns to the home on another island that he shares with the native channel pilot Karroly and his son, while the narrator explains the status of Magellania in the 1880s: territory as yet unclaimed by any nation, which is why Kaw-djer, who lives by the dictum "Neither God nor master," has settled there. Unfortunately, Chile and Argentina soon lay claim to the region, and Kaw-djer, with nowhere else to go, in a gathering storm steers his boat to the island forming the southern tip of the archipelago, intending to throw himself into the sea. But a ship in distress gives him pause, and he and Karroly do what they can to save it; disabled and dismasted, it finally wrecks on a more sheltered island, where its cargo of hundreds of emigrants on their way to South Africa is mostly saved. The emigrants, from the US and Europe, winter over on the island,and, later, when a Chilean emissary offers to give the island to them if they'll settle on it, they accept. Kaw-djer now has a place to remain free-but at a price. Interesting philosophically and geopolitically, and a window on a world a hundred years gone: a distinctive tale still has the power to charm and provoke.