The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder and Survival in the Amazon
11 journalers for this copy...
And after reading it I liked this book so much I decided to make a *bookring* of it.
The following bookcrossers have joined:
boekie (Krimpen aan den IJssel)
Barbje (Gouda) (in de herkansing ;-))
....will you to?
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!
I'll make sure this book ends up at Plinius' somewhere this week.
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.
So, I decided to send this book tomorrow to the next person in line and, maybe, buy this book in the future.
Verzonden aan de volgende deelnemer in deze ring.
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.
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!
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!
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
The book is off to kareltjelief so it can travel along with her on a holiday!
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!
En het zal nog even moeten wachten.
Maar ik verheug me er zeer op!
Bedankt Paula voor het verzenden en de mooie kaart
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.
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.