""Tasmania is a byword for remoteness,"" renowned British author Shakespeare (The Dancer Upstairs) observes at the beginning of his meticulous, lyrical history of the island and his family's time on it. In 1999, Shakespeare moved with his wife to Tasmania, 140 miles off the Australian coast and ""the most beautiful place I had seen on earth."" A relative's subsequent discovery of a cache of old letters reveals that Shakespeare is descended from Anthony Fenn Kemp, an infamous Tasmanian pioneer. Shakespeare's work traces Kemp's history, turning up a slew of fascinating, often grim tales, including riffs on cannibalism, murder, lingering racism against Aborigines, and the early settlers' open disregard for anything but personal gain. For what amounts to the record of a family tree, Shakespeare's writing is transcendent-readers will gain a deep understanding not only of Tasmania's history, but of the forces that have shaped its isolated peoples' nature. Although Shakespeare loses his focus toward the end of the lengthy volume, his skill as a storyteller never wavers. 16 black and white illustrations.