Excerpt from The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Cartographer of No Man's Land

by P.S. Duffy

The Cartographer of No Man's Land
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2013, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2013, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

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 comfort, really, and slipped it back in his pocket. He figured they'd be on the march soon, the engine still on the bridge.

While repairs were attempted, the ranks milled about the train, grousing over the delay, but grateful for it all the same. And for the sudden break in the weather. Housed in drafty huts in a camp thick with mud near Le Havre, most of them hadn't bathed since they'd crossed the Channel and arrived on French soil five days earlier. Those in the river were taking up a challenge. "Baptism and bless me!" one shouted, wading in. "Sweet Jesus, it's freezing!" cried another, plunging in after him. In the train, the owl-faced ranking officer drank steadily from his flask.

Like Angus, the boys in the river and those cheering them on from the bridge were fresh recruits from battalions broken up after training in England to be bled into existing battalions. Most would join the 61st. But Angus had been singled out and reassigned to replace a dead lieutenant in the 17th Royal Nova Scotia Highlanders—a decision no more random than any he'd encountered since joining up. If there was one thing Angus, now Lieutenant MacGrath, had learned, it was that there was no predicting how things would turn out. Of all the predictions he might have made, himself as an officer in the infantry was not among them.

In the state of suspension between the world as he'd known it and the absolute unknown, Angus considered the interplay of light and mist, the hazy edges, blank spaces and mute eddies at the river's edge. Above him, the sky turned a gauzy gray, and a fine rain fell. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

Rain. It had been a constant in the collected bits and pieces of the past few months. It had slicked the deck of the ship that carried him to England and slanted in rushes off the tents in the camp where he'd held a rifle for the first time, adjusted to the heft and length and balance of it, and where, surprisingly, he'd found he was a good shot. And where, not surprisingly, he'd found a heady release in charging straw-filled burlap bags, bayonet plunging into their sodden bellies.

Rain and rage. Rain and regret. He'd been sent over with assurances in a letter from Major Gault to a Colonel Chisholm that he'd be a cartographer. In London. Behind the lines. But Gault was unknown to Chisholm, and there being no shortage of cartographers, Angus had been dispatched to the infantry, where shortages were never-ending. "The infantry?" A chasm of disbelief had opened up.

"You heard me," Chisholm's adjutant had snapped. "You can bloody well draw terrain maps on the field. Meantime, the infantry can use your other skills—the ones you'll get soon enough."

And get them he did, with the rest of the 183rd, in an onslaught of rain that left bedding heavy and damp, uniforms drenched, and the camp awash in mud. Good preparation for the Front, he was told.

Excerpted from The Cartographer of No Man's Land by Peter Duffy. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Duffy. Excerpted by permission of Liveright / WW Norton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...
  • Book Jacket: A Gentleman in Moscow
    A Gentleman in Moscow
    by Amor Towles
    It is June 21, 1922, and 33-year-old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is convicted of being a class ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Under the Udala Trees
by Chinelo Okparanta

Raw, emotionally intelligent and unflinchingly honest--a triumph.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.