Similarly, the current volume ‘responds to a new spirit of geographical giddiness’, in which surprises abound: none bigger than the discovery, in 2016, of an extra 534 islands in the Philippines’ archipelago – unless it was Estonia’s recent realisation that it had 834 islands more than previously reckoned. Island-counting is evidently trickier than one might suppose.
“Even on greater land masses, the borders between what’s there and what’s not can blur”
It’s well known that mapmakers invent ‘trap streets’ to protect their copyright, but Bonnett finds a whole trap town, Algoe, which came into existence following its appearance on a map; and ponders, too, a Russian movie set recreating 1950s Moscow, where the cast and crew lived for years under controlled, Soviet-era conditions, the line between representation and reality torn to shreds.
Other discoveries are less tangible: an eruv is a religious enclave, in theory bounded by walls – but a wall can contain any number of windows and doors, and hence does not have to be solid. This lends an appropriately angels-on-pinheads feel to the business of defining an eruv’s borders.
Whether exploring modern legends that suggest that commuters go missing in Tokyo’s enormous Shinjuku train station, or chronicling humanity’s search for utopias in cyberspace and perpetual mobility, Bonnett has an eye for the fascinating corners of his subject, not all of which are remote and inaccessible. The liveliest spots in which to find language enclaves, it turns out, are big cities: immigrant tongues that have died out in their homelands still find purchase in New York, for example.
There’s much to enjoy here; and a useful warning, too – if one is needed – as to the inadvisability of combining red wine with late-night online shopping.
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