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The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder and Survival in the Amazonby Robert Whitaker
Synopses & Reviews
THE TREK THAT LAY AHEAD OF ISABEL stretched more than 3,000 miles. Even if all went well, it would take her more than six months. The route east out of Riobamba would skirt around towering Mt. Tungurahua, known to spit fire and rocks into the sky. It would then disappear into a deep canyon laced by waterfalls, and tumble quickly out of the Andes into a rainforest so thick with vegetation that sunlight rarely pierced to the ground, and every tree seemed to be filled with the nerve-wracking cries of howler monkeys. From there she'd have to travel by dugout canoe down the turbulent headwaters of the Amazon, passing through a jungle that was home to clouds of insects and populated by any number of poisonous snakes and wild beasts, including the much feared American "tiger," which had quite an appetite for human flesh. Other hazards, wrote one 18th century explorer who had gone this route, included "naked savages" who "eat their prisoners..." In the early years of the 18th century, a band of French scientists set off on a daring, decade-long expedition to South America in a race to measure the precise shape of the earth. Like Lewis and Clark's exploration of the American West, their incredible mission revealed the mysteries of a little-known continent to a world hungry for discovery. Scaling 16,000-foot mountains in the Peruvian Andes, and braving jaguars, pumas, insects, and vampire bats in the jungle, the scientists barely completed their mission. One was murdered, another perished from fever, and a third--Jean Godin--nearly died of heartbreak. At the expedition's end, Jean and his Peruvian wife, Isabel Grameson, became stranded at opposite ends of the Amazon, victims of a tangled web ofinternational politics. Isabel's solo journey to reunite with Jean after their calamitous twenty-year separation was so dramatic that it left all of 18th-century Europe spellbound. Her survival--unprecedented in the annals of Amazon exploration--was a testament to human endurance, female resourcefulness, and the power of devotion. Drawing on the original writings of the French mapmakers, as well as his own experience retracing Isabel's journey, acclaimed writer Robert Whitaker weaves a riveting tale rich in adventure, intrigue, and scientific achievement. Never before told, "The Mapmaker's Wife is an epic love story that unfolds against the backdrop of "the greatest expedition the world has ever known."
"As was customary for girls from elite families in 18th-century colonial Peru, Isabel Gramesn was barely a teenager when she married Jean Godin, a Frenchman visiting the territory as an assistant on a scientific expedition. Planning to bring his wife back to France, Godin trekked across South America to check in with the French colonial authorities, but was refused permission to return up the Amazon back into Spanish territory to retrieve Isabel. So they remained a continent apart for 20 years until 1769, when Isabel started making her way east. Her party ran aground on the Bobonaza River (which feeds into the Amazon), and though almost everyone perished, she managed to survive alone in the rainforest for weeks. Although science journalist Whitaker doesn't directly refer to his own modern trek following Isabel's route down the Bobonaza, his descriptions of the conditions she would have encountered convey his familiarity with the territory, often quite viscerally, ('There are giant stinging ants, ants that bite, and ants that both bite and sting'). His account of the French expedition that brought Godin to Peru and then separated him from his new wife is equally vivid, with exhilarating discoveries and petty squabbles — and richly illustrated with contemporary drawings. Though an early, long digression tracing the history of attempts to measure the size of the earth may establish the context a little too solidly, making some readers impatient, they'll certainly be hooked once the story really begins. Isabel and Jean's adventures are riveting enough on their own, and colonial South America's largely unfamiliar history adds another compelling layer to this well-crafted yarn. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Apr.) Forecast: Whitaker's book deserves a large audience, and it will benefit from an author tour, ad campaign and NPR feature campaign." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Whitaker makes excellent use of Jean's narrative as well as of his correspondence, the journals written by four members of the expedition and the testimonies gathered in 1770 by the Peruvian authorities. As he attempts to integrate these elements, it's hard to know where the book's center lies — the expedition itself? Jean's difficult decades alone? Isabel's dangerous journey? — or how to adjust to the different tones in which we hear these stories. Then again, this is a far from insurmountable problem: each element of The Mapmaker's Wife offers its own distinctive pleasures." Andrea Barrett, The New York Times
"Whitaker brings forward a wealth of detail to throw both thescientific and social history into sharp relief. Indeed, he makes Isabel's ordeal so vivid that her rescue, reunion with Godin, and journey with him to France come almost as an anticlimax. A great story, deftly told." Kirkus Reviews
"Only an exceptional life could connect the Enlightenment salons of Paris with the tribal villages of the Amazon jungle. Peruvian-born Isabel Grameson lived such a life, and now a prizewinning science writer has retraced its improbable course in a riveting narrative....A rare story, taut with intellectual controversy, romantic passion, and harrowing danger." Bryce Christensen, Booklist
An adventure story and a love story set in the heart of the Amazonian jungle
About the Author
Robert Whitaker is a science journalist and the author, most recently, of Mad in America. He has won the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and a National Association of Science Writers' Award for best magazine article. He was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, considered journalism's top prize. He has also published more than twenty short stories in literary magazines such as the Indiana Review, Black Warrior Review, Florida Review, and Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose. His long fascination with South America began in the late 1970s, when he built and lived in a bamboo hut on the Ecuadorian coast. He now lives and writes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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