The Atlas of Remote Islands

A lot of books cross freelance writer Jenna Schnuer’s desk. One new title became an instant addition to her having-a-meh-day-and-need-a-pick-up pile. Click through to see how you can get a copy of your own. UPDATE: The winners have been selected and you can see them here.

The first five times (or so) that I paged through the Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, I fell deeply in love with the book. But I also didn’t see it for what it really is. The problem wasn’t that of the early stages of romance between people: I wasn’t blinded to the book’s faults but, instead, I underestimated the extent of its charms. Though the elegantly-lettered first words of the preface caught my eye, “Paradise is an island. So is hell,” I skipped over the text and went straight to the maps.

Each of author and artist Judith Schalansky’s maps–hand-drawn in shades of gray, black, white, and brilliant orange on cadet blue paper–transported me to a, usually, remote island. Filling each page, she makes the small places important, blithely ignoring the expansive land masses that most of us dream of when planning trips.

When I finally settled my eyes on the tales and histories and stories Schalansky offers up with each map, I realized my mistake. Now corrected. Translated from the original German, Schalansky is as much a writer as she is an artist and cartographer. I’ll return to her words time and again.

Here, a taste of the text:

“The absurdity of reality is lost on the large land masses, but here on the islands, it is writ large. An island offers a stage: everything that happens on it is practically forced to turn into a story, into a chamber piece in the middle of nowhere, into the stuff of literature. What is unique about these tales is that fact and fiction can no longer be separated: fact is fictionalized and fiction is turned into fact.”

I hate the thought of just blindly accepting that I’ll never see a place myself but I’m also a realist. Though I refuse to say I’ll never set foot on any of the 50, there’s a good chance my life will end without visits to Russia’s Lonely Island; to Taongi, “the northernmost and driest atoll of the Marshall Islands, 3,750 kilometres west of Hawaii”; or to the Disappointment Islands, named by Magellan and his starving men when the land offered them nothing after fifty starving days at sea. But, between Schalansky’s words and her art, they’re now a part of my (interior) travel life.

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The Island of Pukapuka, located in the Pacific Ocean 435 miles from Samoa.

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Diego Garcia Island, located in the Indian Ocean 485 miles from the Maldives.

Schalansky’s book was recently awarded a prize for Germany’s most beautiful book, and since we know you want to see its artistry for yourself, we’re giving away two copies to the commenters who can tell us the remote island that most intrigues them and why. Commenting will end at noon EST tomorrow, October 7th.

Freelance writer Jenna Schnuer’s last piece for Intelligent Travel was about Maker Faire. She also explored her inner art map geek in a piece about artist Connie Brown. Read more of Jenna’s work at