I really enjoy books like this one: historical fiction with a goal of writing not only a compelling story but educating the reader about a little-known or long-forgotten historical figure. Such is the case with The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy as she juxtaposes the Civil War era with a strikingly similar modern story set one hundred and fifty years into the future.
The narrative alternates between two women: Sarah Brown and Eden Anderson. Sarah is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, afflicted with a childhood illness which left her barren. Similarly, Eden is struggling with infertility in the twenty-first century world of hormone injections and the unsuccessful and frustrating attempts to conceive via modern technology.
As the story unfolds the reader will eventually get a sense as to the direction it’s heading as the two women’s lives (and their struggles) intersect. Faced with the inability to bear children, both women struggle to find purpose in life. For Sarah, she continues to champion her father’s cause by using her artistic skills to paint maps for slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad.
On the other hand, Eden struggles with her marriage and the failure to conceive. Her husband Jack purchases a puppy for her, and although she regards it initially as insensitivity to her emotional needs, she eventually embraces the pet (named Cricket) and finds a way to move on with her life and later become an entrepreneur. Through a series of clues found in her new home Eden begins to piece together an important historical link to not only the house, but the townspeople who have befriended her. As you might guess, these “clues” are an intricate part of Sarah Brown’s story.
McCoy wrote in her author’s notes about a phrase that kept running through her mind: “a dog is not a child.” After committing the phrase to her journal the first pages of the book outlining the modern setting of New Charlestown, West Virginia began to take shape. A few months later the name John Brown appeared in her notes and she began to research, stumbling across the name of his daughter Sarah.
Eden is a character of fiction while Sarah is a fictionalized historical character, yet Ms. McCoy managed to make both of them come alive. You’ll find yourself cheering both of them on to use their unique gifts and talents and find purpose in life.
The book is meticulously researched, including elements of the country’s mid-nineteenth century struggles with the slavery issue, John Brown’s cause, the Underground Railroad and its use of maps and children’s dolls to smuggle them across enemy lines, and much more. A compelling, imaginative and well-written story for anyone interested in the Civil War era and the Underground Railroad.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!