The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder and Survival in the Amazon

by Robert Whitaker | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0385337205 Global Overview for this book
Registered by monalisaa of Rijswijk (ZH), Zuid-Holland Netherlands on 12/24/2007
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
11 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by monalisaa from Rijswijk (ZH), Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Monday, December 24, 2007
I found this book in our hotelroom at the Flycatcher Inn in Santa Helena, Yucatan, Mexico, took it with me because it seems interesting and left two others books behind for someone else to find.

And after reading it I liked this book so much I decided to make a *bookring* of it.
The following bookcrossers have joined:

Barbje (Gouda)
AnnevO (Rotterdam)
Plinius (Schiedam)
dutch-book (Heerenveen)
Suzy26 (Delft)
MaaikeB (Zeist)
Gnoe (Utrecht)
Kareltjelief (Amsterdam)
a3ana (Weert)
boekie (Krimpen aan den IJssel)
Barbje (Gouda) (in de herkansing ;-))
....will you to?

Journal Entry 2 by monalisaa from Rijswijk (ZH), Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Friday, January 4, 2008
What a lovely book to start the year with, this “true tale of love, murder and survival in the Amazon’ of Robert Whitaker!
Although the subtitle made me think it was a novel (I thought “true” was meant as a figure of speech) and I therefore expected the story about love and murder to begin after a non-fiction introduction of the time and place where the story would be set, after some chapters I began to realize this wouldn't be the case: this is an all-non-fiction-story, and in this case that wasn’t a disappointment at all.
Whitaker writes very enthousiastically and affectionately about the subject matter and the historical figures he introduces, uses accessible language even when he tells the scientific side of the story, chooses appealing quotations from his source material that fit seamlessly in his own text, and doesn’t needlessly romanticize. He also gives a good description of the historical, political and geographical context of the events, which is very interesting and enables you to really imagine what life was like at the time. In short, a very readable book about a very appealing little piece of history.

Actually the book tells three stories: that of a French expedition, that of one of its participants after the expedition is ended, and that of his wife.
The first story is that of the expedition to South America that is undertaken by three French scientists, Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer and Charles-Marie de La Condamine, their assistents, and two Spanish officers that are appointed by their king to make sure the expedition wouldn’t go out of bounds, engage in illegal commerce, etc. The main object of the expedition, that starts in 1736, is to measure the length of a degree of latitude at the equator. This was an important issue at the time, because the scientific world was divided about the question of the exact shape of the earth. Descartes had held that the earth was elongated at the poles, and two French astronomers, the Cassini’s thought to have found the proof of that proposition by measuring the length of a degree of latitude in France. But Newton had developed his theory of gravity, and according to this theory the earth would be flattened at the poles rather than elongated. This dispute could be settled by measuring the length of a degree of latitude at the equator and comparing the result with the measurements of the Cassini’s. Well, this was quite an undertaking. The expedition began with the long sea voyage to Quito, with a break at Panama because the Panama Canal didn’t yet exist. Then a very long stretch of land in the surroundings of Quito had to be measured. This meant crossing the Andes in various directions, working at a considerable height and in rough terrain. The measuring was done by triangulation, which is a method for measuring long distances by setting out triangles in the terrain and measuring the hooks to calculate the distance (I don’t know if this is clear, but Whitaker explains it much better than I do ;-)). The members of the expedition travel back and forth through the Andes under heavy (wheather) conditions and because the are true scientists of their time, the Enlightenment, they take note of everything they encounter: "They were aware too that measuring the arc was not the expediton's only purpose. They were also unveiling a continent. They were investigating its flora and fauna, with Jussieu gathering bags full of seeds and plants to bring back to France. They were making observations on the social mores and customs of colonial Spain. They were newly curious about earthquakes and volcanoes (...) La Condamine and Bouguer had climbed to a height never before reached by Europeans, and perhaps by no one on earth." So notwithstanding the privations they suffered because of the height, the cold and the roughness of the terrain, "they could appreciate that they had been set loose in a savant's playground".
Mainly because of the difficult circumstances the expedition takes much longer than anybody had expected, but it ends succesfully: the measurements prove that the earth must be flattened at the poles.
Because the long duration of the expedition there’s is a lack of money, as a result of which the assistants can't return to France when the measurements finally are completed in 1740. And this brings us to the second story, that of Jean Godin, a nephew of Louis Godin who was one of the assisting members of the group. For the lack of money he is forced to stay in Quito, where he meets and marries Isabel Gramesón. She would like to migrate to France, but Jean’s attempts to earn money do not bear fruit, so they feel obliged te stay in Quito. Until they receive a letter from France in 1948: Jean’s father has died and his family wants him to return. Because of this, and because life in the colony gets uneasy because of social unrest (the Spaniards exploit the Indians to the extreme) Jean decides to try to travel to France. In the wake of La Condamine, he wants to take the route via the Amazon River to the east of the continent. Because this is not a well known route, Jean will make the journey alone first and when it is safe, come back to get Isabel. But this plan is frustrated by the fact that Jean is French: to travel back along the Portuguese-owned part of the Amazon he needs the consent of the Portuguese king and that he doesn’t succeed to obtain: his letters to Europe get lost or aren’t received well. This causes a very long period of Jean living in French’ Guyana and Isabel living near Quito, that comes to an end when, the third story, Isabel decides (in 1768!) to travel the Amazon herself to reunite with Jean.
This third story is about survival. It’s about misfortune and bad luck, but also about good luck, because Isabel survives. The story of her journey is thrilling and very impressive, so you’d rather read it yourself!

Journal Entry 3 by wingBarbjewing from Gouda, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Monalisaa heeft vanmiddag het boek persoonlijk afgegeven, het is nu bij mij!

Journal Entry 4 by wingBarbjewing from Gouda, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Saturday, April 12, 2008
Het boek is nog steeds bij mij... ik ben er in begonnen maar het wil maar niet vlotten. Ik zie AnnevO volgende week, mag ik het boek aan haar geven dan, dat zij en Plinius ruilen? En mag ik dan onderaan de lijst voor een herkansing over een paar maanden? Want het verhaal trekt me nog steeds, maar het wil nu gewoon niet.

Journal Entry 5 by AnnevO from Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Friday, May 9, 2008
Today, this book was given to me by Barbje.

Journal Entry 6 by AnnevO from Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Sunday, May 25, 2008
This book was no easy read, but I have to say persistence does pay off in this book. It is a semi-scientific description of true explorations, in which love, murder and all other kinds of human behaviour occur. The romance between Jean and Isabel is just a part of the story; not the main focus. That being said, I did like the book. The descriptions of the local tribes, the animals, the flora... Wow! The scientific bit about the triangulation is quite interesting, but also difficult. Personally, I do like astronomy, so that helped.

I'll make sure this book ends up at Plinius' somewhere this week.

Journal Entry 7 by Plinius from Schiedam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Tuesday, May 27, 2008
surprise during dinner, a smiling BX-face on the videophone! Thanks AnnevO!

Journal Entry 8 by Plinius from Schiedam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Friday, May 30, 2008
Wat een leuke ontdekking is dit boek! Zeker na het lezen van Maupertuis , over de reis naar Lapland om daar de lengte van een meridiaan na te meten. Ik herinner me uit dat verhaal (niet geweldig geschreven maar heel interessant) dat er gewag gemaakt werd van een expeditie naar Zuid-Amerika om daar ook een stuk meridiaan na te meten. Zo past het ene verhaal aan het andere! En nu verder lezen....

Journal Entry 9 by Plinius from Schiedam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Thursday, June 26, 2008
What a good read and a very interesting story! I enjoyed this very much - it's wonderful to understand something of the struggle for knowledge we take for granted in our day.

I'll pm Kareltjelief and in the meantime I'll try to repair the book - the pages are coming loose.
Now I know why the book fell apart: the glue had become brittle. When I've fixed that I'll make a new cover from the old one- hardcover probably.

Journal Entry 10 by Plinius from Schiedam, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Ik beschik niet over een snijmachine of een boekbinderspers, maar de reparatie is redelijk gelukt. Nog een dagje nadrogen en dan op de post naar dutch-book.

Journal Entry 11 by wingdutch-bookwing from Heerenveen, Fryslân (Friesland) Netherlands on Monday, July 7, 2008
Boek is aangekomen, ben zeer benieuwd!

Journal Entry 12 by wingdutch-bookwing from Heerenveen, Fryslân (Friesland) Netherlands on Monday, March 30, 2009
It just doesn't work, this book and me. A shame, because I think the story must be an interesting one. Maybe, this book and I don't get along, because I have a cold and reading a non-fiction book like this is too much work for my brain.
So, I decided to send this book tomorrow to the next person in line and, maybe, buy this book in the future.

Journal Entry 13 by wingdutch-bookwing at Abcoude, Utrecht Netherlands on Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Released 12 yrs ago (3/31/2009 UTC) at Abcoude, Utrecht Netherlands



Verzonden aan de volgende deelnemer in deze ring.

Journal Entry 14 by Suzy26 from Delft, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The Mapmaker's Wife came by for a visit today. It seems like she has quite a story to tell, so she will stay with me for a while.

Journal Entry 15 by Suzy26 from Delft, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Thursday, April 9, 2009
Wow, this book really took my breath away. I immensely enjoyed reading it. This is probably one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. While non-fiction normally tends to get rather boring as it is usually a mere reciting of facts, this is never the case for The Mapmaker's Wife. Sure, you are given a lot of information on colonial times in the 1700s, the scientific developments at the time, the political situation in France/Spain/Portugal, South-American geography, natural life in the Amazon area etc.etc., but this is all done in such a way that it remains interesting and it has all been deftly interwoven into the story, which is most and foreall an adventure/love story, which keeps you mesmerized till the very end. Imagine being separated from your spouse for over 20 years because of financial and political reasons! The most amazing part of the story is the journey through the jungle as described in Chapters 13 and 14 with all these agressive ants, botflies, mosquitoes and venomous snakes. Isabel's hardships are described in such a vivid way that it sends shivers down your spine.

Thank you for bringing this book under my attention, monalisaa! If it weren't for you I would probably never have read it.
And many thanks to Plinius for repairing the book so neatly. You did a great job!

As soon as I have MaaikeB's address I'll send it on to her.

Journal Entry 16 by MaaikeB from Zeist, Utrecht Netherlands on Saturday, April 11, 2009
Het boek is veilig aangekomen. Wat heb je dat schitterend gerestaureerd, Plinius!

Journal Entry 17 by MaaikeB from Zeist, Utrecht Netherlands on Saturday, June 6, 2009
Loved the book! It took some time to read it, but I didn't mind at all. How interesting, Plinius, that you also read a book about the other trip to Lapland that took place at around the same time. Unbelievable to what lengths (literally :-) ) these men had to go to satisfy their curiosity, pardon me, their scientific interest. I read so many passages aloud to my husband that he is now reading it himself. Gnoe is holidaying in Madeira, anyway, so I couldn't hand over the book yet. Of course I will do so, as soon as she's back. Thanks for sharing, monalisaa!

Journal Entry 18 by Gnoe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Friday, July 3, 2009
Thanks MaaikeB for handing over the book! AND for your enthusiastic introduction that came with it :) now I can't wait to start reading! It seems like a perfect summer book. But first I'll have to finish my current read (What came before he shot her by Elizabeth George) -- another 252 pages to go.

Thanks to Monalisaa for her enthusiasm in the first place, plus providing us with the possibility to enjoy this book as well!

Begonnen met lezen op 'Quatorze Juillet' maar door drukte nog steeds niet uit op 19 augustus!

Journal Entry 19 by Gnoe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Saturday, August 22, 2009
Yay, I finally made it... It feels like I've been on this long and sometimes arduous expedition myself!

The Mapmaker's Wife is a moving tale, well worth reading -- even though I got a little bored at times (sorry!). Most of my experiences with the book have already been mentioned by other ring participants. That happens when you're almost the last on the list ;)

With this title I participate in the What's in a Name Reading Challenge. It's FUN! So my full review (with pictures ;) can be found on Graasland.

Kareltjelief's address has arrived -- let's see if we can meet for a book exchange!

Journal Entry 20 by Gnoe at bookray/bookring, A Bookcrossing member -- Controlled Releases on Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Released 12 yrs ago (9/1/2009 UTC) at bookray/bookring, A Bookcrossing member -- Controlled Releases



The book is off to kareltjelief so it can travel along with her on a holiday!

Journal Entry 21 by kareltjelief from Amsterdam, Noord-Holland Netherlands on Monday, October 5, 2009
There is little to add to what's been said before. I enjoyed reading it very much. Unlike others, I liked the first part best. I stand in an overwhelming awe of these scientists. We still benefit from their discoveries! From time to time it read like a thriller: would their measurements differ a lot or not?
The title is badly chosen. Jean Godin was not a mapmaker and the story of his wife occupies only a small part of the book. No doubt this title attracks more readers and that's OK with me!

Journal Entry 22 by a3ana from Weert, Limburg Netherlands on Monday, October 19, 2009
Het boek ligt sinds vorige week of zo hier. Ik kom er nu pas toe om dat te melden....
En het zal nog even moeten wachten.
Maar ik verheug me er zeer op!

Bedankt Paula voor het verzenden en de mooie kaart

Journal Entry 23 by a3ana from Weert, Limburg Netherlands on Sunday, November 29, 2009
Ik heb mijn best gedaan - en het boeide ook wel, daar niet van. Maar voor mij was dit niet het juiste boek op het juiste moment. Ik ga boekie pm-en en dan mag het door.

Journal Entry 24 by boekie from Krimpen aan den IJssel, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Sunday, December 6, 2009
Gisteren binnen gekregen als Sinterklaascadeautje. Ik verheug me erop.

Journal Entry 25 by boekie from Krimpen aan den IJssel, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Tjonge, dat viel niet mee. Misschien omdat het december was en ik wel andere dingen aan mijn hoofd had. Toch stug doorgegaan.
Het boek op zich was interessant, ik houd van non-fictie, maar ik vond het niet erg toegankelijk geschreven. Het verhaal had wel wat vlotter gekund. Vooral de inleidingen op de eigenlijke vragen die de groep onderzoekers zich stelde vond ik te uitgebreid. Het verhaal zou beslist meer vaart gekregen hebben als dat bondiger was beschreven, waarom men zich afvroeg hoe het zat met lengte- en breedtegraden, afstand tot andere hemellichamen, de positie van verschillende geleerden, t.o.v. elkaar, geschiedenis van het Incarijk enz. iedere keer als je dacht dat het eigenlijke verhaal nu ging beginnen kwam er weer een zijpaadje. Interessant en noodzakelijk, maar het hield het eigenlijke verhaal wat op. Ik houd wel van achtergrondinformatie, maar toch begon het hier wat te storen.
Hoogtepunt vond ik toch wel de beschrijving van de tocht die Isabel door het oerwoud maakte. Op blz. 1 werd die al aangekondigd en je moest wachten tot hoofdstuk 11 voordat ze uiteindelijk op pad gaat. Ik vond dat wel bloedstollend beschreven. Niet alleen de gevaren die ze tegen kwam, maar ook de gevaren die ze nog tegen had kúnnen komen. Ik ben geen held op het gebied van beestjes en ik was al niet van plan om naar de Amazone af te reizen, maar stel dat, dan was ik daar nu wel goed van gezezen. Hoe vond Monalisaa dat, had jij niet een Zuid-Amerikaanse vakantie achter de rug? Ik vond het wel erg leuk, dat juist terwijl ik dit boek aan het lezen was, ik ook keek naar de de afleveringen van de Beagle. Wel een totaal andere kust, maar toch..
Samengevat: toch een boek dat ik de moeite waard vond, zeker als ik er zo op terug kijk. Bedankt Monique voor de ring.
Ik begrijp dat het boek nu weer naar Barbje gaat. Stuur me je adres Barbje dan probeer ik het deze week nog op de bus te doen.


Journal Entry 26 by monalisaa from Rijswijk (ZH), Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Sunday, January 31, 2010
Yeah, I found the book in a hotel room while we were travelling through Yucatan, Mexico, by bike. And I'm planning to send the book back to the hotel once the ring has ended, because I suppose the owner might like to read the mostly enthousiastic impressions of us dutchies ;-)
A pity you found the beginning of the book not very appealing, but I'm glad you like the end. I found the story of Isabel travelling the Amazon also the most thrilling and enticing part of the book.

Journal Entry 27 by monalisaa from Rijswijk (ZH), Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Sunday, February 7, 2010
And the book is home again. So now I can at last see how beautifully Plinius has repaired the binding. Thanks a lot, Plinius, I suppose that without your help it would have been difficult to complete the ring-travel of this book! And thanks, ringreaders, for your JE's about the book.

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