Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy

I had the opportunity to read an advance reader copy of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, and I am so glad I did.  I downloaded it to my Kindle, got in the car to go on a long trip with my husband, and when I looked up, we had arrived.  I literally could not stop reading this book - it really was that good, one of the best I've read this year, and certainly the best from a debut author.

Angus MacGrath is a sailor and navigator, an artist and a pacifist.  He’s had no interest whatsoever in joining the Canadian forces fighting on the Continent.  But now Ebbin, his brother-in-law and best friend, is missing, and Angus enlists, determined to find him.  He’s promised a safe position as a cartographer based in London.  But a promise like that doesn't mean much in war time and he soon finds himself in the trenches, fighting for his life.

Back home in Canada, Angus’s son Simon Peter has been carefully following the progress of the war.  He’s proud of his father’s service, and angered by his pacifist grandfather who has nothing good to say about any of it.  But as the war drags on, their small town begins to change, with patriotism and paranoia driving ordinary people to far from ordinary behavior. 

Set in both Canada's maritime provinces and the war front, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land features two incredibly compelling lead characters, a mystery, coming of age, love, and a disturbingly real picture of a war that changed the world.  I am not normally a fan of descriptions of battle and military life, but in this case, I was totally riveted – P.S. Duffy has clearly done her research, and incorporates it skillfully into the narrative. 

If you’re interested in more fiction set around the time of the Great War, try Pat Barker’s books, particularly Toby’s Room or A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book For a stellar nonfiction account, check out John Keegan’s The First World War.

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