The Mapmaker’s Children
Broadway Books, 2016
336 pages, paperback
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.
— From the Hardcover edition
This book tells two tales: one of Sarah Brown’s time in New Charleston with the Hill Family and her influence on the Underground Railroad; the second of a modern woman who’s recently moved to the small town to raise a family that may never be.
Through most of the book, it feels like separate stories that happen to be taking place in the same location. Both are enjoyable, and as it moves through there are connections to be made, such as the Apple Hill house; Sarah and Eden share the inability to have children; and the dolls.
Dynamic storytelling brought the characters to life. At first, Eden was unlikable, but as she was changed by those around her, she became more likable by the page. The town is even a character since it has ‘seen’ and was involved in so much.
Some of the painting details could have been more descriptive, particularly true for the last iteration of the maps. The whole section describing Sarah’s idea felt very rushed.
With beautiful storytelling, everything comes together at the end.