April 20, 2010KR BlogKR

This Year I Rewrite My Novel–Part VII, Wikipedia’s “List of Divided Islands”

I’m going on a trip next week to St. Martin.

If you’ve never heard of St. Martin (I didn’t), it’s a small island (91.9 km2) east of Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Isles and just northwest of St. Barthelemy in the Caribbean.

What is peculiar about this island is that when you google it, it appears to be spelled two different ways: St. Martin (French) and Sint Maarten (Dutch).

Saint Martin is one of the smallest divided islands in the world. According to the “public experts” on Wikipedia’s “List of divided islands,” it is, to be precise, 61% France and 39% Netherlands.

This “list of divided islands” fascinates me, not only because of the names of the islands and some of their gorgeous-amorphous-hybrid etymologies but because the percentages of land between countries seem to be the exact opposite–alarmingly-precise.

How does Chile know that it wants 56% of Tierra del Fuego and Argentina is cool with 44%? And what happened to Borneo (73% Indonesia, 26% Malaysia, and 1% Brunei)?

What is Brunei?

Percentages are precise and we sometimes use them to tell stories. The story of 61% France and 39% Netherlands is an attempt to not only delineate ownership but also identity, right?

But who are the people?

According to the CIA’s World Factbook online (which I completely recommend as a total weird trip in and of itself BTW), states about the people of St. Martin:


29,820 (July 2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 213
Age structure:

0-14 years: 27% (male 3,991/female 4,048)
15-64 years: 67.5% (male 9,596/female 10,532)
65 years and over: 5.5% (male 742/female 911) (2009 est.)
Median age:

total: 30.5 years
male: 29.5 years
female: 31.3 years (2009 est.)
Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.91 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.81 male(s)/female
total population: 0.92 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Ethnic groups:

creole (mulatto), black, Guadeloupe Mestizo (French-East Asia), white, East Indian

Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Protestant, Hindu

French (official language), English, Dutch, French Patois, Spanish, Papiamento (dialect of Netherlands Antilles)

Now doesn’t this get fun?

My interest in borders, bordering, and both their liminality and the physical demands of their space probably comes from the fact that I grew up near a militarized border (which Homeland Security happily refers to as the “GREAT WALL OF MEXICO!!!!,” kinda like THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!!!!) and the fact that my entire family has been divided by one, between North and South Korea, and the violence it took to erect it.

During a 2006 trip to Korea, I got close to the 38th parallel on which the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) cuts the peninsula in half. When you stand on a ledge looking from South Korea to North Korea, you see two competing flagpoles that once, over time, inched a little higher in response to the other.

But now North Korea has the tallest flagpole in the world!


I remember the feeling of grave soleminity with the landscape, knowing that many of my family died in the Korean War and that some of them may still be across the border and that I may never see them.

I think that if I could see them I would recognize them right away. At least, I like to imagine that.

That I would meet my cousins and maybe even my paternal grandmother, and we would know each other instantaneously. And even if we couldn’t speak the same language, we would have the same faces, the same hands.

The irony is that the Korean DMZ itself is occupied only by landmines, listening posts, and animals–including the rare red-crowned crane, which according to lore lives 1,000 years.

1,000 years! Think about that! Think about all the divided islands…

I haven’t quite concretized how this will work out in my novel yet, but my trip to St. Martin is research, I swear.

Do you want a t-shirt or a shot glass?