Summary and book reviews of The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy

The Cartographer of No Man's Land

By P.S. Duffy

The Cartographer of No Man's Land
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2013,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2013,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

In the tradition of Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife and Karl Marlantes's Matterhorn, P. S. Duffy's astonishing debut showcases a rare and instinctive talent emerging in midlife. Her novel leaps across the Atlantic, between a father at war and a son coming of age at home without him.

When his beloved brother-in-law goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly into the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief. With the intimacy of The Song of Achilles and the epic scope of The Invisible Bridge, The Cartographer of No Man's Land offers a soulful portrayal of World War I and the lives that were forever changed by it, both on the battlefield and at home.

One

February 1st, 1917
Western Front, France

Angus MacGrath unbuttoned his greatcoat and leaned back against the one tree left on the bank of a river he did not know. Not far downstream, a private, standing waist-deep in the river, squeezed a bar of soap between his hands. It shot upward, and four or five other soldiers lunged for it, splashing and falling over themselves. Their uniforms, boots, and rifles lay in a heap by a jagged row of blackened tree stumps. Under a weak early morning sun, bands of mist rose from the cold river, occasionally engulfing the soldiers so that they took on a dream-like quality of white arms and torsos appearing and disappearing.

Above the river on a low stone bridge sat the engine of the troop train where, a day into their journey, it had lurched to a stop, unable or unwilling to carry on. Sunk between endless flat fields, the tracks ran east-northeast toward the Front. Angus flipped open his old pocket compass for confirmation, for ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What do you think "No Man's Land" means within the novel? Is there more than one meaning? What is the importance of "No Man's Land" in relation to the title of the book?
  2. In the beginning, Colonel Chisholm relays to Angus that he was selected to take on the role of first lieutenant due to his education and maturity. Do you think these characteristics accurately describe Angus? What other qualities prepared him for this role?
  3. Throughout the novel, chapters shift from the war to Snag Harbor. How does this technique advance the story? Is the movement between places successful?
  4. Why do you think Angus chooses not to tell Hettie that he found Ebbin? How would the truth affect Hettie? How does the secret change Angus and Hettie'...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The various themes are so deftly interwoven that one is barely aware of how dense the plot is until one steps away from the book and looks back at the reading experience in wonder. Duffy's gorgeous prose, affecting characters and multifaceted plot are sure to win her many fans with this, her debut effort, and aficionados of WWI literature will definitely want to put this one on their lists.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1264 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Simon Mawer, author of Trapeze and The Glass Room
Brilliant. The description of front line action in the trenches is impressively real, and the ending blessedly free from sentimentality. Altogether a remarkable debut."

Author Blurb Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever
Never once while reading The Cartographer of No Man's Land did I doubt Duffy's authority...Never sentimental, Duffy knows where to find the humanity at the heart of even the smallest gestures.

Author Blurb Alexi Zentner, author of Touch
The Cartographer of No Man's Land is less of a book about maps and World War I than it is about boys becoming men, men discovering who they are, and the connections between fathers and sons.

Author Blurb Jessica Francis Kane, author of The Report
Cutting deftly between a father at war and a son at home, The Cartographer of No Man's Land is a graceful, dignified look at all the ways in which war is endured: from the stories people tell to keep themselves alive at the front, to the fault lines that threaten the home-front bond.

Author Blurb Amy Brill, author of The Movement of Stars
A haunting meditation on family, friendship, and sacrifice, The Cartographer of No Man's Land charts a deeply felt course from the Nova Scotia coastline to the trenches of Europe, bridging the distance between past and present, duty and honor, obligation and love. A powerful debut.

Publishers Weekly

Well-nuanced characters and carefully choreographed (but still surprising) situations make this a strong debut.

Booklist

Starred Review. [Her] patience in developing the cast of characters makes for an unusually rich novel.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Essential reading for historical fiction lovers and war story fans alike; very highly recommended.

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The Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Battle of Vimy Ridge

In her introduction to The Cartographer of No Man's Land, P.S. Duffy states that the WWI Battle of Vimy Ridge is "as iconic to Canadians as Bunker Hill is to Americans."

The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was formed in 1914 to provide support to the British battling overseas. 619,363 Canadians enlisted, of whom 60,661 – nearly 10% - were killed or wounded. The CEF was instrumental in many important actions, including The Battle of Ypres (1915), The Battle of the Somme (July – November, 1916), and Passchendaele (November 1917). The group was very well-regarded, and members of the CEF were considered among the fiercest fighters.

Vimy Ridge is a 4.3 mile long escarpment about 5 miles northeast of the French town of ...

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