Monday, March 17, 2014

THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER by Laurel Corona: A Review

Soar, don't settle for earth
and sky - soar to Orion;
And be strong, but not like an ox or mule
that's driven - strong like a lion.


Jewish diaspora and anti-semitism have been largely portrayed in literature as the harrowing backdrop of a modern 'world-war and post-war' political scene, leaving some relevant chapters of the Hebrew history on the back burner of authors and readers' attention. I commend Laurel Corona for her graceful and clever handling of  a historical theme usually overlooked (the 15th-century Jewish persecution and expulsion from Spain), in combination with the ever current motifs of female emancipation and ideological manipulation of religious differences.

It is appalling how during a time of groundbreaking discoveries, humanistic thinking, and intellectual renaissance, a wave of destructive doctrines subverted, in the name of greed and wicked beliefs, the overall civil coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The medieval Iberia was a shining example of a diverse, multicultural society, but the community of tolerance and mutual gain came to a disastrous end when Ferdinand of Aragona and Isabella of Castilla ascended to the throne (1474). From that moment on, the Jews of Spain witnessed the dawn of an era of suffering and persecution.

Religious segregation is obviously the narrative power-source that sets The Mapmaker's Daughter's story in motion throughout a number of hurdles and generations: through flashbacks and reveries, Amanda Cresques, highly intelligent and educated Jewish daughter of the most renowned cartographer in Europe, relives her extraordinary life as a crypto-Jew, wife, mother, widow, lover, translator and poetess during the Spanish Inquisition. But it's the celebration of forgotten and underappreciated, although fictional, female characters to lend a unifying and ultimately modern narrative focus to this glorious novel: 

"I am so free nothing can stop me, not even the ends of the world itself ... I roam, dizzy with imagination and spilling over with all the yearnings of my heart. […] Let me leave my mark in the world ... I don't want to be invisible."

***Review copy graciously offered by the publisher via NetGalley in return for an unbiased and honest opinion.


A sweeping novel of 15th-century Spain explores the forgotten women of the Spanish Inquisition

In 1492, Amalia Riba sits in an empty room, waiting for soldiers to take her away. A converso forced to hide her religion from the outside world, she is the last in a long line of Jewish mapmakers, whose services to the court were so valuable that their religion had been tolerated by Muslims and Christians alike.

But times have changed. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquer Granada, the last holdout of Muslim rule in Spain, they issue an order expelling all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. As Amalia looks back on her eventful life, we witness history in the making—the bustling court of Henry the Navigator, great discoveries in science and art, the fall of Muslim Granada, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. And we watch as Amalia decides whether to relinquish what’s left of her true self, or risk her life preserving it.

Laurel Corona
Sourcebooks Landmark; March 4, 2014
Paperback, 360 pages
Historical Fiction
5 stars out of 5 


Laurel Corona is the author of three historical novels, including Finding Emilie (Gallery Books, 2011), which won the 2012 Theodore S. Geisel Award for Book of the Year, San Diego Book Awards. She has taught at San Diego State University, the University of California at San Diego, and San Diego City College, where she is a professor of English and Humanities.

Corona is a member of the Brandeis National Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Hadassah. She has written over a dozen nonfiction Young Adult books for school library programs, primarily on Jewish topics. She lives in San Diego. Website:


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  1. This book has been on my radar for quite some time. You have brightened that radar exponentially with this review! Fabulous!

    1. Thank you, Maryellen! A powerful novel. Historically and thematically.