I am a huge fan of historical fiction. I love to learn about periods in history while following a well-written story. Generally, I find myself reaching for books that take place in one of two periods of history: medieval England or WWII. Don’t ask me why, but those two periods never cease to fascinate me.
However, I recently had the opportunity to read The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy, which takes place in pre-Civil War America and specifically focuses on the Underground Railroad. The synopsis from Amazon.com describes the book this way:
“When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.
Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.
Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.”
At first, I was a little hesitant about reading the book. I’ve never really had an interest in the Civil War era and while I knew a little about the Underground Railroad, I never had an interest to study it in depth. Nevertheless, I decided to give the book a shot and I’m so glad I did.
Now, to be completely honest, the beginning of the book was a little slow for me. It took me a few chapters to really get into the story. And at first, I really disliked the character of Eden. One thing that drives me crazy are women who act like perpetual victims of life. In the beginning, I was tempted to stop reading the book because I couldn’t stand how Eden was in a constant state of self-pity and irrationally lashing out at the people around her. However, as I got to know her better and learn more about her story, I wanted to see if she would change and grow.
On the other hand, Sarah’s character was a refreshing contrast to Eden. Sarah was strong and determined and, despite horrible things that happened to her and her family, refused to think of herself as a victim. I loved her drive and resolve to make a difference in the world, especially during a time when women were not respected for their minds or thought capable of doing much more than needlework and child-rearing. What impressed me the most about Sarah is that she is not a fictional character and that much of the things she accomplished in this book actually happened in real life. She was an amazing woman!
The way the author weaved the story of Sarah in the past with the story of Eden in the present was well done. I enjoyed reading each woman’s story and seeing where each of them ended up. I learned a lot about the history of the Civil War and the events leading up to it, as well as the Underground Railroad, which was fascinating to learn more about. I’m really glad I stepped out of my “comfort zone” of historical fiction and gave this novel a chance. This story will stick with me for a long time and has piqued my interest in learning more about this particular period in American history. It also piqued my interest in reading more by Sarah McCoy (she lives in Texas!), a wonderful writer and excellent story-teller.