1917. World War 1 is being fought in the trenches of France and Belgium. An ocean away in Nova Scotia, Angus McGrath is a sailor whose livelihood is changing, he is adrift and caught in a family divided. His wife is distant, his father a domineering pacifist and his son, Simon Peter is growing up in the turbulent, anti-German world of World War One. Ebbin, his best friend and brother in law, is counted among the many missing soldiers in the war and Angus decides to join the war as a Cartographer to look for him.
When he gets to England, he finds too many Cartographers and instead is sent to the front line trenches in France as a soldier. He leads his men in the battle for Vimy Ridge all the while trying to make sense out of what he learns happens to Ebbin. Meanwhile at home, the village is quickly changing and Simon Peter is growing up and trying to make sense out of a world that has been demoralized.
Told in alternating chapters, The Cartographer of No Man's Land captures the voices of Angus and Simon Peter, as father and son, an ocean apart. The novel also captures the emotional intensity of war and the horror that surrounds it as well as the emotional divide it creates in the people who fight and their loved ones back home.
The history of Vimy Ridge and the Canadian soldiers who fought valiantly to win the small piece of land from the Germans is told insightfully. I learned so much about this battle which is so important to the Canadians. Duffy says in her author note that "Vimy Ridge is as iconic to Canadians as Gettysburg is to Americans." Pg 369. There were regiments of soldiers who wore kilts into battle. I had no idea until now. I love it when a story teaches me about history and helps me make connections to the world we live in.
2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War 1 and I am trying to read and learn as much about World War 1 as I can. I'm so glad I found P.S. Duffy's novel as she has created a memorable story, with a cast of creative characters that will linger in my mind for a long time.
The Cartographer of No Man's Land is a novel about WWI but it also a novel of peace and the anti-war movement. It is full of love, longing and loss and it is sure to touch your heart as it did mine. It is a beautiful, powerful story.
The Cartographer of No Man's Land has been selected as one of 6 finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction.
Here are links for the prize and book finalists.