Austin Tappan Wright

Buccaneer Books 1942
A book review by Danny Yee © 1998
Studying at Harvard, John Lang meets and befriends Dorn, a student from the far-off country of Islandia, where Lang is later appointed United States consul. Islandia is struggling to decide on a political response to the imperialist powers, and Lang becomes involved in the conflict. He also becomes involved at a more personal level, and must struggle to come to terms with Islandia's differences.

Wright started creating Islandia — an imaginatively envisaged and richly detailed nation — in his childhood, but his writings were only discovered, edited, and (partly) published after his death. Islandia is a rural, low technology society, governed by a small-scale aristocracy, where families and ties to the land are of central importance. It is a utopia in that it describes an alternative way of life, to be compared and favourably contrasted with reality — the United States in the early decades of the 20th century — but it is not what one might expect from a "utopian novel". Politics and economics are largely peripheral to Islandia, and it is as an adventure and above all as a romance that it shines. Islandia's most intriguing differences are in the workings of personal relationships, of friendship and love, and it is Lang's relationships with women, Islandian and American, which provide the central threads of the novel. (There are three words for love in Islandian: alia, roughly love of place and lineage, ania, commitment and desire for marriage, and apia, sexual attraction.)

Islandia is a gentle but haunting novel, an uplifting and captivating story whose thousand pages pass by all too rapidly. It appears to have had a small but appreciative readership for fifty years, but it deserves to be far more widely known. While it will never be as popular as Lord of the Rings, it is a classic that will be remembered and read when myriad legions of fantasy and romance novels in gaudy covers have sunk into obscurity.

February 1998

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%T Islandia
%A Wright, Austin Tappan
%I Buccaneer Books
%D 1942
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0899683851
%P 1014pp