The Lost Island
Amsterdam op 37’50? Zuiderbreedte
The spell of the most outcast island on earth
‘Nowhere was the sea emptier, the waves higher, or the wind stronger. In this wild mass of water, equidistant from Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and Antarctica, was a minuscule volcanic peak, at least three thousand kilometers from the nearest continent. I was no longer in doubt. I had fallen under the spell of the most outcast, most middle-of-nowhere island on earth: Amsterdam.’
Spiritedly, Alfred van Cleef describes his obsession with visiting this lone-liest spot on earth, smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Only after years of struggle with the branch of French officialdom responsible for the island’s management does his dream come true; he is granted permission to spend several months on Amsterdam, amid French volcanologists, biologists, meteorologists and soldiers. In addition to discovering the island’s desolation and silence, he comes to know the isolated company of thirty-six men, their strange life of loneliness and camaraderie.
Amsterdam was discovered as early as 1522, during Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, and received its name a century later from the Dutch East India Company captain Antonio van Diemen. However, the deserted island has never proved capable of supporting any life but that of the sea elephants, albatrosses and fur seals who mate, have their young and die there. The insights Van Cleef gains into the propagation and survival of the species confront him with his own illusions about life and the finiteness of being.
This makes The Lost Islans not only a book of adventure – full of explorers, castaways and lone wolves in search of solitude – but also an emotional quest for Van Cleef’s own uprooted past, and the challenge presented him by an empty spot amid a much greater emptiness.