Summary and book reviews of The Mapmaker's Wife by Robert Whitaker

The Mapmaker's Wife

A True Tale of Love, Murder and Survival in the Amazon

by Robert Whitaker

The Mapmaker's Wife
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2004, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2004, 368 pages

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Book Summary

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 a great 18th century true adventure.

An adventure story and a love story set in the heart of the Amazonian jungle.

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 16,000foot 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 Gramesón, became stranded at opposite ends of the Amazon, victims of a tangled web of international 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."

Chapter One
A Sunday in 1769

Today the Ecuadorian village of Cajabamba, which is about 110 miles south of Quito, is a place of little note. The Andean town stretches for a mile or so along the Pan American Highway, and most of the activity in the village centers on the bus stop, where vendors are lined up selling a mix of fruit, corn-on-the-cob, soup, and roasted meats. Tourists passing this way, if armed with a particularly good guidebook, might pause just long enough to scan a hillside on the north side of town, searching for a scar left by the great earthquake of 1797, which sent a flow of mud down upon the adobe homes below and killed thousands. At that time, this was a very different place. More than 16,000 people lived here, and Riobamba--as it was then called--was one of the most graceful cities in colonial Peru, home to musicians, artists, and wealthy landowners. But after the earthquake, the survivors picked up and rebuilt their town thirteen miles to the northeast, and old ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If you enjoyed Longitude and Latitude, you'll probably enjoy The Map Maker's Wife - but if you're looking for H. Rider Haggard adventure, look elsewhere!  As always, you can form your own opinion by browsing for yourself. Read the first chapter at BookBrowse, which gives you a taste of the adventure to come, before turning to the 'back story' that forms most of the book and sets the scene for the great crossing described in the final pages.  

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.

Booklist - Bryce Christensen

Starred Review. Readers can only marvel at how Isabel survives a rain-forest journey (personally repeated, afoot and afloat, by Whitaker) that claims the lives of all of her companions and leaves her stranded and presumed dead. A rare story, taut with intellectual controversy, romantic passion, and harrowing danger. 

Author Blurb Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River
As enthralling as any epic novel. Full of mystery and danger, bravery and tragedy, with a rapturous love story at its core that transcends both time and continents. A marvelous read.

Author Blurb Mark Honigsbaum, author of The Fever Trail
An exemplary narrative history and a fascinating tale of science, love and survival. Returns Isabel Grameson to her rightful place at the front rank of Amazonian explorers.

Author Blurb Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams and Reunion A Novel
In the brilliant tradition of Dava Sobel's Longitude and Ken Alder's The Measure of All Things, Robert Whitaker's book places the scientific discovery of terrestrial distances within a gripping human drama, where science, society, and the human heart are entertwined. Whitaker combines powerful story-telling with excellent historical research, in a book that reads like a novel.

Reader Reviews

johanna angermeyer- author

Confusion over Cajabamba not author's fault.
There is a Cajabamba in Peru, and there is also one in Ecuador. Caja probably comes from the old Quechua word caxas which means "cold" and bamba means "territory". There are obviously "cold territories" in both ...   Read More

senior2011!

to mr. or mrs. Peru?
This is not a review: I’m not trying to be mean but in reference to the person with the negative review of the book, page one, chapter one, of my copy, says “Today the Ecuadorian village of Cajabamba…”, meaning to say that the location of that town ...   Read More

Mauricio Cifuentes

Peru?
It is in fact a very interesting story,unfortunately, the many mistakes found in this book such as locating Cajabamba in Peru takes credibility out of the writer and making the book itself a poor deliver of the truth.

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