Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona

Title: The Mapmaker's Daughter
Author: Laurel Corona

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 15th Century / Spain / Judaism / Coming-of-Age / Court Life / Family / Historical Figures Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Sourcebooks Landmark (3/4/2014)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: A young 15th century conversa recounts her life in Spain and Portugal and her search for her spiritual and emotional home.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction, NetGalley & Edelweiss

Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- so bright, eye-catching, and evocative.

First line: I hold my hands up for my mother's inspection.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow.

Why did I get this book?: Corona's novels always get rave reviews and I love the setting and era.

Review: This rich novel, set in 15th century Spain and Portugal, follows the life of Amalia Cresques, a conversa who eventually returns to her Jewish faith at great personal expense.

Born to a famous mapmaker, Abraham Cresques, who eventually went deaf, Amalia's gift for languages allows her to accompany him to court where she assists him with his work. But after his passing, she finds herself a wife in an unhappy marriage and in constant search for the home and community that will allow her to worship openly as a Jew.

I hesitate to describe this as an 'inspirational' novel but it is a rather faith/spirituality heavy book, which I struggled with at times. Despite the title, the story has very little to do with mapmaking; it's really about Amalia's life and her passion for her Jewish faith. There's non-stop action, from the erratic behavior of the various monarchs to the rough hatred for the Jews by Christians and the Inquisition, punctuated by moments of domestic drama or bliss.

I have some complicated feelings toward this book. One critique is that it felt a little too long and exposition-heavy; I found myself skimming pages at times, especially at the end when Amalia's family grows so huge it's hard to tell everyone apart. She lives in an incredibly violent, tumultuous era, so there's non-stop action, and that was occasionally tiresome.

Personally, I was frustrated with Amalia for her choices; her devotion to her faith really cost her in terms of happiness and love, and I found her story ultimately quite depressing, although I don't think that was the author's intention. Still, I enjoyed her voice and found her to be well-written and evocative.

This edition includes a 26-question discussion guide and some book club activities; I was surprised to learn that Amalia's father and her acquaintances were all historical figures, and that the heartbreaking incident at the very end was real.  (Apologies for being vague, but I don't want to spoil anyone!)

For those who like great heroines, sagas of family, and coming-of-age stories, this is your novel. It's a wonderful arm chair escape, too, as Corona evokes 15th century Iberia in vivid detail.

12 comments:

  1. I'm not a historical fiction fan so this probably isn't for me but my mom would probably like it - she has a fascination for all things Spanish.

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    1. She'd love this one -- it really immerses you in 15th century Spain, for good and for bad!

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  2. Wow--you and I had almost the exact same reactions to this book! great minds...

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    1. Oh, good, that makes me feel better! It was my first novel of hers --I own a few of her previous ones -- and I know folks love her so will give her another try for sure.

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  3. Very good review. I'll have to check it out. I bought Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona a few years ago, but I didn't get a chance to read it because I was in college.

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    1. I have Penelope's Daughter, too -- can't wait to read it now -- will try this summer, I think!

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    1. Can't wait to see what you think of it if you do get to it!

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  5. I like the mix of fact and fiction, down to the relatives being real. They're often just very believable and easier to lose yourself in. And that cover is indeed lovely!

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    1. It's an intriguing story, too, made more so knowing it's real!

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  6. I've read some pretty mixed reviews of this book, but I think the fact that I don't generally like books about religion will be the deciding factor. The cover is beautiful and the story sounds interesting, but I think I'll avoid picking it up.

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  7. I like the idea of this setting. but whether I will like the execution is a different matter.

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