My Father's Island Essay - Critical Essays

Johanna Angermeyer

My Father’s Island

The most interesting feature of this book is its refreshingly candid portrait of the Galapagos Islands, best known for their influence on Charles Darwin’s formulation of his theory of the origin of species by natural selection. The marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and exotic birds have become familiar to television viewers and readers of travel magazines, but the rats, spiders, cockroaches, centipedes, scorpions, fire ants, sharks, and other less appealing creatures have received limited media attention.

The islands, totaling about three thousand square miles of volcanic outcropping scattered across 36,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, are a harsh environment for the six thousand human inhabitants who struggle to exist there. People eat turtle eggs, wild pig meat, rock crabs, and cactus fruit. Almost everything is in short supply, including wood for building houses. Lighting and cooking are fueled by kerosene. Precious stored rainwater collects algae and mosquito larvae. Virtually everything that makes life comfortable has to be imported from North or South America, and unfortunately the Galapaguenos have little to offer in trade. As a result, these hardy people have developed a spirit of self-reliance, a genuine enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life, and an enviable camaraderie.

Johanna Angermeyer knows the islands and their heterogeneous people well. She moved there as a girl of thirteen and still maintains a part-time residence there, although she now lives in England’s Lake District with her husband, who is curator of Wordsworth House. She skillfully interweaves the biographies of all her close relatives with her own story of coming of age in a primitive environment. Her father and his three brothers settled on the Galapagos after fleeing from Germany to escape the fanatical dehumanization taking place under Adolf Hitler prior to World War II. The Angermeyer brothers and their families come as close to being a Swiss Family Robinson as the reader is likely to encounter in modern literature.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Thibune. March 13, 1990, V, p.3.

Kirkus Reviews. LVII, November 1, 1989, p.1569.

Library Journal. CXIV, November 15, 1989, p.90.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 28, 1990, p.2.

New Woman. XX, January, 1990, p.28.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVI, November 10, 1989, p.53.

San Francisco Chronicle. February 21, 1990, p. E4.

The Times Literary Supplement. August 24, 1990, p.905.

The Washington Post Book World. XX, February 4, 1990, p.13.