Angus MacGrath is a capable sailor with a passion for painting thrown headlong into the trenches of the First World War. The Nova Scotia shipping industry is changing. Angus and his pacifist farther, Duncan, are at odds over the changes. Angus’ wife, Hettie, is remote and has disappeared inside herself with her brother Ebbin’s disappearance in Europe. Ebbin is the man who goes where the whim and wind take him, enlisting in the Canadian forces to enthusiastic cheers from his patriotic father. While Angus’ father is appalled. When Ebbin’s letters cease to reach them from the Western Front in 1916, Angus is torn between staying home and trying to console his remote wife or traipsing off to Europe in search of his missing brother-in-law. Entering the war also means that Angus will be leaving his teenage son, Simon Peter, behind. Simon Peter and Ebbin are the two people who make Angus smile. In choosing to go to war, Angus also has to contend with the vehement disapproval of his father Duncan.
The Cartographer of No Man’s Land begins in 1917 on the Western Front during the Great War. P.S. Duffy’s descriptions of troop movements, the trenches, and the battlefields are detailed and bring life to the century old history of the First World War. From the outset, the reader is propelled back and forth from the tedium of the Front and horrors of trench warfare to the seemingly peaceful setting of Nova Scotia. Yet things are never as they seem to be. The local teacher Avon Heist is of Germanic origin, though he’s been a Canadian citizen for fifteen years, and he is being tormented by his neighbors, the citizen of Snag Harbor. Left behind to finish his schooling, Simon Peter MacGrath defends his teacher, Mr. Heist, when others are intolerant of Heist’s ancestry. Just as Simon Peter is waking up to the intolerance of the world and a new perspective towards girls, his mother is coming out of her shell as well. She is taking charge. She is propelling the family business and the community forward into the twentieth century.
P.S. Duffy has created a detailed and thoroughly provoking novel in The Cartographer of No Man’s Land. Duffy’s story is engaging. Within her narrative, Duffy shows a world in change and turmoil. In Europe, thousands of young men are dying in vain attempts to gain a few feat of ruined ground. Back home, the world is progressing and moving forward. Those off fighting are not forgotten, yet they are over there and the world continues as it had back home. Duffy’s novel, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, is not just a history of World War One, but an account of the war and it’s affects in a small Canadian community an ocean away. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is well written and, for me, a very satisfying read.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Liveright. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.