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the Complete Review
the complete review - history / philately



Bjørn Berge

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To purchase Nowherelands

Title: Nowherelands
Author: Bjørn Berge
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2016 (Eng.2017)
Length: 223 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Nowherelands - US
Nowherelands - UK
Nowherelands - Canada
Nowherelands - India
Atlas der verschwundenen Länder - Deutschland
Terre scomparse - Italia
  • An Atlas of Vanished Countries 1840-1975
  • Norwegian title: Landene som forsvant. 1840-1970
  • Translated by Lucy Moffatt

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting titbits; quite nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 12/2017 Jan Morris

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bjørn Berge's atlas-catalogue of countries that no longer exist is cleverly limited to those that issued postage stamps, which makes for a manageable timeframe (stamps are a relatively modern phenomenon) as well as a physical connection to each distant, lost place. Stamp-collector Berge notes in his Foreword that his: "aim is to collect a stamp from every country and every regime that has ever been active since the first Black Penny was issued in England in 1840"; unlike some philatelists, he's not a fan of pristine, unused stamps, but rather wants the signs of actual wear and use that connect it to life back then and there. Indeed, for him a stamp is very much a physical object, and to be appreciated as such (perhaps a bit too much ... ?):

I take out my stamps, sniff them and stroke them, maybe lick them
       For each (former) country in Nowherelands Berge presents basic information -- name, dates, population, and size -- and a helpful little map locating it. Each entry is also accompanied by a picture of a stamp from there. And each entry includes a description of sorts -- a historical overview of the place, or at least the essentials; descriptions of significant events, visitors, or local rulers; or even quotes from visitors or literary works. Just a few hundred words for each place, but giving some sense of it. Each entry also concludes with a very short bibliography -- suggested reading (or films, too), fiction or non -- and the occasional recipe (for a true taste of the place ?).
       The book is divided into six time-periods, and of course some of these are dominated by particular areas -- the realignment in Europe and Russia around the time of the First World War and the Russian Revolution for 1915 to 1925, for example -- but on the whole the selection turns out to be quite astonishingly far-ranging. The varieties of nation-states does include many that were (and remain) more or less subsidiary, such as the Danish West Indies (whose dates, from 1754 to 1917, make it one of the most long-lived ones) which were a colony all along, and have since merely been re-packaged, as the US Virgin Islands. Other kinds, like the princely states in India, were far more numerous than the few examples Berge offers. And even many of the best-intentioned places only made it part-way to anything resembling nationhood, as also suggested by the many example of postage stamps that weren't stand-alones, but rather just overprints of stamps from the prevailing local power.
       Most of these places can be considered failed nations -- though in some cases their interim-independence was never meant to be lasting-- and the stories of these various failures are often fascinating (and range from the tragic to the farcical). Some served very specific purposes -- the (Panama) Canal Zone (which, yes, had its own postage stamps) -- while numerous city-states probably never really stood much of a longterm chance. Berge notes in his Foreword that over: "a thousand regimes have considered themselves important enough to issue stamps", and while he only covers a fraction of these, it's still a very varied overview.
       The individual pieces on the countries generally do offer some historical context, but Berge also offers -- even tends towards -- colorful anecdotes and titbits. Unsurprisingly, there's quite a bit of bizarre material, including the story of the Maharaja of Alwar buying a half dozen Rolls Royces, only to put them to use for municipal garbage collection.
       Berge's Scandinavian connection does also come across in the collection, in the form of a greater reliance on examples of travelers and writers from the region than might otherwise be expected-- for example, the entry on Batum notes Knut Hamsun and Fridtjof Nansen having visited (though neither in the time-frame Berge gives as Batum actually being state-like (1918-1920) ...). But there are also occasional personal connections of interest, such as Berge describing his own first glimpse of the Panama Canal as a machine room greaser aboard a vessel in 1973.
       Nowherelands is an enjoyable collection, though perhaps more a book to dip into than read through. There's a bit too much randomness to it, from the selection on offer to the descriptive parts, but the stamp-connection, in particular, is a helpful common element, making for the feeling of a slightly more unified collection than this actually is.
       Nowherelands is no larger study of nation-making and -breaking, but it's an entertainingly-presented and attractively packaged sampler volume -- though the wider-than-tall format, and two-columned text presentation make it a bit unwieldy for real reading, as opposed to mere dipping. It does offer a generous selection of odds and ends of interesting material from far-flung places that might well lead readers to explore further.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 February 2018

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Nowherelands: Reviews:

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About the Author:

       Bjørn Berge was born in 1952.

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© 2018 the complete review

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