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1855: on a desert island off the coast of Africa, the most audacious experiment ever envisaged is about to begin.

To settle an argument that has raged inconclusively for decades, two scientists dream up an elaborate experiment. A pair of infants, one black, one white, are to be raised on a barren island, exposed to the dangers all around them, tended only by a young nurse whose muteness renders her incapable of influencing them in any way for good or for bad.

They will grow up without speech, without civilization, without punishment or play. In this primitive environment, the children will develop as their primitive natures dictate.

The question is: what will be left, when the twelve years of the experiment are over? Which child will be master, and which the slave? For surely one will triumph over the other. Or will they all, children and scientists alike, reap the fruits of breaking the taboo, as they discover love and loneliness on the wild but beautiful island of Arlinda.


Kunal Basu was born in Calcutta but has spent much of his adult life in Canada and the USA. He currently teaches at Oxford and McGill universities.