The latest addition to my website is Vasily Golovanov‘s Остров или Оправдание бессмысленных путешествий [Island or A Justification for Meaningless Travel]. This is a wonderful non-fiction novel, in which the author describes his fascination with and his visits to Kolguyev Island, a remote island off the coast of Northern Russia. Professionally he has worked as journalist, often reporting from some of the trouble spots in countries of the former Soviet Union but has always had a fascination with islands, particularly since he read Robinson Crusoe as a child and, in particular, he has decided he wants to go to Kolguyev, a place which very few people visit and is well off the beaten tourist track. The earlier part of the book, nominally about his first visit, focusses on his preparations for his second visit but also his background, his personal issues (including but not limited to marital), his preparations for and journey to the island as well as a few digressions
We only really get into what the island is, its inhabitants, its landscape, its legends and its history, in the second part, describing his second visit. Not only do we get a detailed description of the island, his combined fascination with parts of it and dislike of other parts, we get numerous interesting digressions, from early accounts of visitors, including a nineteenth century Englishman, to discussions of the culture of the island, such as the language and myths of the Nenets, the local people. He is happy to talk about faith and shamanism, about his visits to Paris and Crimea, about reindeer and sunsets and various other topics that come into his head. The whole makes for a most enjoyable read. Indeed, the two books that I have most enjoyed this year have both been non-fiction novels – this one and The Unwinding. This one, sadly, is available in French and German but not in English.