Diana Souhami's Selkirk's Island is not the first book about the extraordinary, real-life adventures of the Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk--that credit must go to a rather better-known book, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Nor, doubtless, will it be the last. But it might be the best. Diana Souhami's book commands superlatives for every reason. The author of previous, outstanding biographies, including the prizewinning The Trials of Radclyffe Hall, Souhami has produced a marvellous account of what life was like on the remote, rain-swept (not desert) island of Juan Fernandez. Selkirk chose to remain on the island in 1704, when he sensed that the piratical voyage he had joined himself to was sinking fast. His shipmates sailed on and left him. For four years he survived in total solitude, hunting the wild goats on the island and clubbing them to death, building a hut from the branches of sandalwood trees, and making fire with dry sticks. Souhami brings everything to life with vivid, imaginary vignettes: "A boa constrictor arrived coiled in the hollow of a cut tree. It had journeyed from Brazil for seven weeks over choppy seas. The tree washed ashore with the turning tide. It sloughed its skin and danced alone." When at last two ships sailed into Juan Fernandez's tiny harbour, quite by chance, they found a bearded, savage-looking man, who could only utter the one word: "Marooned!" Souhami is brilliant on the natural history, on the physical details, on the sheer, intractable character of the material world that Selkirk had to deal with--and all these things demand that you, the reader, ask yourself: "Could I have done this? Would I have survived?" This is what makes Selkirk's Island compelling, fascinating reading, and the three double-page colour photographs of the island are breathtaking. --Christopher Hart
Although not the first examination of Alexander Selkirk's celebrated sojourn on Juan Fernandez Island (R L Megroz's The Real Robinson Crusoe immediately springs to mind as a straightforward earlier account), Souhami's stands with the best of them. As a pirate and buccaneer, Selkirk sailed the South Seas. In 1703, he joined a plundering expedition and, after experiencing appalling shipboard conditions, he opted to maroon himself on an island 400 miles off the coast of Chile. This book gives an authoritative account of the colourful story, using journals of those who dumped and rescued Selkirk, as well as Souhami's own visit to the island. Selkirk's life falls neatly into three stages: Early Life, The Maroon, and After. Add to this Defoe's literary classic, with the notoriety that sprang from the sailor's adventures, and the result is fertile ground for any writer. Souhami shows a sure mastery of sources and is consistently entertaining. The Tom Hanks film Cast Away will inevitably add interest to related titles, ensuring Selkirk's Island will not remain unvisited once published.
Legendary story of Alexander Selkirk, the original Robinson Crusoe.
From the Back Cover
In 1704 Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish mariner, was marooned on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernández after a row with his ship's captain. The crew were on a treasure-seeking adventure in the South Seas. Selkirk's abandonment meant he was alone for four years and four months, dependent for survival on his wits and ingenuity and the yield of the island and the surrounding sea. When rescue came he was clad in goatskins and had forgotten how to speak. In this engrossing and timeless story of one man's struggle with solitude, fate and his environment, award-winning author Diana Souhami draws on contemporary memoirs, letters, ships' logs and documents as well as her own experience of the island on which Selkirk was a castaway.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Diana Souhami is the author of many widely acclaimed books. She has also written plays for radio and television.