Title: The Cartographer of No Man’s Land
Author: P. S. Duffy. This is her first novel, she is a science writer for the Mayo Clinic.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Readers: Consultant Alila, bookkeeper Tykira, teacher Ninian and research assistant Rosie T.
Summary: When adventurous Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and search for his beloved brother-in-law. With his navigation experience, Angus is assured a position as a cartographer in London. But upon arriving overseas he is instead sent directly into the trenches, where he experiences the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his perceptive son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief and a rising suspicion of anyone expressing less than patriotic enthusiasm for the war.
Our Take: Straight A’s for this historical novel. Whether you’re a WWI buff or just someone who likes historical fiction or enjoys novels of family our readers heartily recommend this book.
I have read many WWI novels- the brutality of that horrific war and the suffering of the soldiers in the trenches are familiar territory. Nevertheless The Cartographer of No Man’s Land kept my interest from the opening lines. P S Duffy has written a beautifully rendered tale of two different worlds. The impact of the war is investigated not just through the front-line experiences of naïve, artistic Angus MacGrath and his interactions with the inhabitants of the nearby French countryside but also through its reverberations in the fishing village he left behind in Nova Scotia.
The characters are interesting and sympathetic and their individual responses to the changes the war has wrought in their lives are complex. The lives of a young boy and his mother in France are literally torn apart by the shifting tides of battle. Angus’ hometown is also forever altered- its inhabitants struggling with knee-jerk discrimination against longtime residents of German ancestry, traumatized soldiers sent home from the war, and changes in the way business is conducted in a modernizing world.
I love this book. I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, but I think it also has a broader appeal. Anyone who likes to read will enjoy becoming immersed in the lives of these interesting characters and will be left pondering the rippling changes caused by far away world events.
To be honest, it took me a bit to get into the story of Angus and Simon. I think the wartime storyline of how Angus came to be on the front lines kept my interest at bay at first. However, from the point where Angus discovers what happened to his brother-in-law, I became quite involved with the characters of the book. To help fill out the story, the author created believable characters that helped you as the reader to see the various effects that wartime could have on the people at home and the people on the frontline.
It was interesting to learn and see how Angus grew personally while dealing with the experiences of war. It was a nice juxtaposition to learn and see how his son, Simon, grew to be a young man fighting his own wars at home when the town turns on one of his beloved teachers. Both individuals received scars (whether mentally and/or physically) during this whole ordeal.
At the end, you don’t know if they will be able to bridge that gap when his father returns from war “defective”. However, the author wrote this beautiful story with such skill that the reader is left with a sincere hope that both of these characters will be able to find that once special father-son bond in order to move on and heal each other’s “wounds”. If you are a fan of historical fantasy… especially World War I or other wartime events, I recommend this book.
P.S. Duffy’s beautifully written story had me completed engrossed from start to finish. An easy read, and difficult to put down, the writing was, at times, almost poetic.
The history of the First World War is well-known but Duffy made it more real. Her characters captivated me and I genuinely cared about them and what happened to them.
Angus MacGrath is a dreamer and an artist and not at all the sort of person you would expect to enlist in the army. That he does so in order to locate his wife’s brother makes the rest of the story particularly poignant. On the surface, his life looks lovely, a beautiful wife, a son with whom he has a special relationship, a brother-in-law who is a best friend, but as the story continues we learn what Angus’s life is really like and can’t help but feel a kinship with this fisherman artist with the soul of a poet.
As you read it becomes clear that Angus’s wife’s love of her brother is stronger than her feelings for her husband, that a town can turn on one of it’s own, and the scars that were caused by the First World War run deep and some never heal.
What Angus does find when he ends up in France is heartbreaking and life in the maritimes is a painful echo of what he is experiencing on the front line.
I was surprised at how much I ended up liking The Cartographer of No Man’s Land. It was tragic and uplifting, reality-based with just the right amount of fantasy.
The story follows a father (Angus) and his son (Simon Peter) throughout the First World War, and we catch glimpses of the lives of those connected to them through their eyes. The characters are believable and lovable despite their flaws. Each character is complex, and P.S. Duffy slowly reveals the ways in which each character’s past and present have shaped them.
This book does include some peripheral action in the trenches typical of a WWI novel, but it is much more focused on the ways in which the war affected everyone, near and far. It explores PTSD and the ways in which different people cope with hardship, and are able to overcome unimaginable emotional trauma.
The novel was perfectly balanced, with parts that were filled with great sorrow, and other parts that made you want to cheer for the characters and their actions. This was a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
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