The Mapmaker's Children
Genre: Historical Fiction
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Review: While I occasionally love books with split narratives, I often find that one of the narrators is so much more interesting and compelling that it makes the book feel unbalanced. Sarah's story of losing her father, working with abolitionists, falling in love, and struggling with her life choices during the Civil War was fascinating. The author clearly did a lot of research into the history of John Brown and his family, the Underground Railroad, and life during the Civil War, and it it apparent in the attention she pays to detail and even in the style in which she writes about Sarah. If the story had focused solely on Sarah, and fleshed out a little more of her life, I think I would have enjoyed it much more.
Unfortunately, I found Eden's story less believable. At the start of the story, Eden is a huge cranky pants because of her infertility issues, and with the help of kindly townspeople, a precocious neighbor girl, and a charming puppy, she magically transforms into a happy and productive person. I love stories of personal transformations normally, but Eden's story would have benefited from being set over a longer time period, as well as having more of her emotions fleshed out realistically.
Rating: 3 stars