The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Laurel Corona
Review by Lindsay Pettee
Still haunted by the ghost of the Holocaust, Laurel Corona’s novel, The Mapmaker’s Daughter, acts as a reminder to the present day that Jewish persecution at the hands of the religiously intolerant has occurred for centuries. The novel invites the reader to immerse themselves in fifteenth century Iberia through the eyes of Amalia, who describes life as a Jew during the time period and depicts events leading up to the Christian Reconquista. An elderly Amalia, great granddaughter of famed mapmaker Abraham Cresques, sits in a bare room awaiting her grandson’s arrival to take her from Spain as an exile. As she struggles to decide whether to follow her family into the uncertainty of the future, or remain behind knowing she will most likely be burned at the stake for her religious ties, Amalia revisits the moments of her lifetime that have brought her to this culminating point. Through the experiences of Amalia and the rest of her family, Corona gives life to a historical period most often overshadowed by the famous voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
The detailed descriptions of Jewish ritual throughout the novel make the reader feel as though they are there dunking their heads in the cold water with Amalia as she performs mikveh and toasting with the Abravanel family during Shabbat. On the surface it seems as though Corona invites us into these traditions in order to normalize the actions of Jews in contrast to the hostile Christians. But the text resonates deeper than religious conflict as Amalia’s internal monologue gives us a glimpse of her struggle to find home:
My prayers and dreams are wrapped up together, vague and contradictory. ‘Let me leave my mark in the world,’ I say to the air around me. I don’t want to feel so invisible, yet I’m torn between wishing to move away from this place and wanting it to be me and I it.
Amalia must navigate through persecution and violence in search of her Jewish identity on a path that constantly tests her willpower and faith. Alienated in her own home, Amalia brings attention to the complex hardships of women as she attempts to balance her roles as loving daughter, dutiful wife, sensual lover, and stoic mother. The Mapmaker’s Daughter is an elegantly woven novel that dives deep into the intricate spaces of relationships and the compassionate beauty that arises from suffering.
Laurel Corona is the author of four historical novels including The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, which received Book of the Year at the San Diego Book and Writing Awards in 2009, and Finding Emilie, winner of the 2012 Book of the Year and Best Historical Fiction Awards. She has also published 17 Young Adult titles for Lucent Books and is currently a professor of English and Humanities at San Diego City College.
You can find The Mapmaker’s Daughter as well as Laurel’s other novels here.