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Selkirk's Island
By Diana Souhami

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Selkirk's Island

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Selkirk's Island
The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe
By Diana Souhami
Thorndike Press - Large Print, (2002)
ISBN: 0-7862-4219-1
Genre: Biography

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 24, 2003

Alexander Selkirk was the inspiration for the fictional Robinson Crusoe, who served as the central character in at least three novels by Daniel Defoe. Yet who was the legendary figure behind the myth created by Defoe? In Selkirk's Island, Diana Souhami examines the myths and the facts that surround the life and exploits of Selkirk, who was stranded on a deserted island for over four years, from 1704 to 1709. In this outstanding book, Souhami chronicles the events leading up to the stranding. She also describes Selkirk's life on the island, how he came to be rescued, and what the remainder of his life was like.

Selkirk's Island is a premier biography of a less than heroic man. Selkirk was a man whose exploits might have been forgotten had it not been for Defoe turning him into a fictional hero. Selkirk was not a 'nice' man. He was violent, ill-tempered, and self-centered. In recounting his story, Souhami has touched upon some aspects of Selkirk's life that are not fodder for children. For example, when describing how he spent his time on the island, Souhami graphically touches upon Selkirk's sexual encounters with goats. There are also graphic descriptions of medical procedures, such as amputations that may also be unsuitable for younger readers. In short, this is not a book for children. For adults, however, these details help to provide a well-rounded view of subject and the period in which he lived.

Selkirk's Island is divided into thematic categories. The book begins with an elaborated description of The Island, and its history since Selkirk's visit. She then embarks on a captivating examination of the voyage, and mutiny, which resulted in Selkirk's stranding. In this regard she also paints a fascinating portrait of William Dampier, the Old Pyrateing Dog, with whom Selkirk sailed on a venture to capture a manila galleon and to raid the coastal towns of Chile. Souhami then goes on to describe how Selkirk managed to survive on the Island, his rescue, and his life after the rescue. She also described the various accounts, including Defoe's that where written about Selkirk adventures, and she compares the fictional accounts with Selkirk's real life experiences. Souhami also goes into detail regarding the events that arose after Selkirk's death, including having two women coming forth to claim that they were his wives. The text closes with a brief glimpse of what The Island, which was renamed Isla Robinson Crusoe is like today.

Selkirk's Island is a meticulously researched book that relies upon a variety of sources including Selkirk's own accounts of his experiences as well as those by William Dampier, Edward Cooke, and Woodes Rodgers. Souhami also visited the Island, and her firsthand experiences there greatly add to the authenticity of the book. A few illustrations are included that provide a tantalizing glimpse of what the island looks like. The writing is vibrant, and the story engrossing. Selkirk's Island will be of interest to a wide audience due to its adventurous story line, and for its historical accuracy. It will be of particular interest to those enthralled with sailing ship, pirating, and 'survival' exploits.

Note: The three novels that Defoe wrote based upon, at least in part, Selkirk's exploits are:
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