Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The Mapmaker's Daughter"

Laurel Corona's novels include Finding Emilie, Penelope's Daughter, The Four Seasons, and the newly released The Mapmaker's Daughter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Mapmaker's Daughter and reported the following:
From page 69:
We sleep that night on the other side of the Tagus. Lights from a fort blaze on the promontory above us, but the abandoned fishing hut we find is safer than risking human contact. The following morning the old man roasts fish over a driftwood fire. He looks at the dark clouds out to sea and decides he can’t risk taking us around the point because the west coast will get the worst of the coming weather.

He points toward steep hills so thick with trees they look more black than green. “Sintra is up there,” he says. “You can walk from here, but it would be better to take the coast path until you come to a village where the road goes up the other side of the mountains. It’s an easy climb from there.” With a loud hacking cough he brings up thick phlegm that he spits onto the sand. “You can stay there tonight, and get to Sintra tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I say, casting a glance at my father. I’ve noticed how weak he is getting and I assumed we would be put ashore close to the palace.

“I’m just telling you what people who live around here would do.” He shrugs. “Go whatever way you want.” Without another word he readies his boat, and shoves off into the surf, leaving me looking around in astonished horror at how alone we are in an indifferent world.
So much has already happened in the first 68 pages, it’s hard to know where to start. The immediate context is that my main character, Amalia, barely a teenager, and her deaf father, the mapmaker of the book’s title, are trying to reach the Portuguese king’s palace, where her father will be employed. As they near Lisbon they learn that plague has broke out. They are forced to take a roundabout route to avoid it, leaving behind their horses and the rest of their party, and coming alone in a small fishing skiff across the Tagus River, at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, to go the rest of the way to another, safer palace on foot.

The reader has already learned about Amalia’s precarious childhood in a family forcibly converted from Judaism to Christianity. He father accepted their fate, but Amalia and her mother continued secretly to observe Jewish laws and customs. In the section immediately preceding page 69, she and her father were at the court of Henry the Navigator, where he became disgusted with Henry’s newfound interest in slaving along the African coast. Her father will finish out his days as a mapmaker to the king, and leave a shaken and confused Amalia to confront the world on her own after his death.

That world will open up into a vibrant and rich place for Amalia, as she allies herself with a Jewish family, the Abravanels, and brings her Jewish identity into the open. It will include years as a tutor to the Caliph’s grandchildren in the court of Granada and to a young Princess Isabella of Castile, before returning to the Abravanel family and assuming her eventual role as its matriarch.

Along the way, the world darkens with the religious fervor of the Reconquista and the rise of the Inquisition, until finally Amalia sits alone in an empty room, waiting to be taken to the ship that will carry her away from her home forever. With 276 pages yet to go, this is only a taste of what I believe to be the most compelling story I have yet told.
Learn more about the book and author at Laurel Corona's website.

Writers Read: Laurel Corona.

--Marshal Zeringue