Islands of Abandonment book cover
Image credit: Matthew Chant

Islands of Abandonment – Exploring Some of the Many Places Left Behind

All good things may have to come to an end but that doesn’t mean that a flower can’t sprout through the ashes of a burned city. Cal Flyn’s non-fiction masterpiece explores this rebirth of nature through twelve sights of ecological change. I messaged Flyn who hails from the Highlands of Scotland to ask how she managed to find all of these abandoned places and she informed me that it took a great deal of research, reading about the ecological process and weighing up what places would suit her writing the best.

Flyn separates her collection of essays into 4 sections; the first being delves into four places; West Lothian in Scotland, The Buffer Zone in Cyprus, Harju in Estonia and ending the section with the famous nuclear disaster of Chernobyl in Ukraine. She walks through Chernobyl witnessing the effects humans have on our planet and what happens when things go wrong. I was moved by her captivating language as I am reminded the destructive effects humans have on our planet.

Part Two focuses on two areas of the United States, the first being the eerily deserted city of Detroit, in which the population has plummeted from the millions to hundreds of thousands. Flyn observes the empty roads of abandoned houses. In the same section she visits Paterson, New Jersey that, like Detroit, had a big industrial change that damaged the fabric of the local society.

Flyn explores another four places in Part Three of her collection. These are Arthur Kill in Staten Island, Zone Rouge in France, Rose Cottage on the island of Swona in Scotland and Amani in Tanzania. Amani is an abandoned ecological research facility. Flyn told me that she knew she “wanted to write about invasive species and novel ecosystems, so I had to find an abandoned plantation, physical garden or botanical garden that fit the bill. Amani ticked all the boxes.”

Part Four, Endgame, explores the last two destinations for Flyn: Plymouth in Monserrat and the Salton Sea in California. The latter is a relic of times past, from a flood to a tourist destination to now a simmering pool of harsh chemicals and poisons. Flyn stays in a hostel, as she sees some of the outcasts of society. It is a powerful essay to end on, one in which the culmination of the effects we have had on the world is shown.

Islands of Abandonment is the perfect example for seeing the beauty in the rubble that we left behind from our failed visions. As a society, we need to come together to alleviate the pressure humans are putting on the Earth and that as Flyn herself says “all is not lost”, we just have to make a change. Flyn’s poetic writing style perfectly ties into her factual accounts of the journeys she’s taken to bring us this beautiful work of literature. Overall, Flyn’s work is truly sensational and a must read for anyone interested in the effects we are having on our world, and it doesn’t hurt that she herself is a kind enough person to answer my inexperienced questions!

Author: Cal Flyn

Published by: Harper Collins