The Mapmaker’s Opera

Written by Béa Gonzalez
Review by Alana White

Praise for Béa Gonzalez’ The Mapmaker’s Opera abounds, with many critics and other reviewers comparing the author’s work to that of such notable writers as Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Marquez. This, I thought when I opened the book, had better be good. And it is excellent.

Set in late 19th-century Spain and early 20th-century pre-revolutionary Mexico, Gonzalez’s rich, multi-layered story centers on bird lover Diego Clemente who, fascinated by the hand-colored birds he discovers in John James Audubon’s Birds of America, travels from Seville to the Yucatán to work alongside real-life American scientist Edward Nelson. In Mexico, young Diego, who is a gifted artist, not only experiences thwarted love, treachery and the stirrings of revolution, but also confronts his tortured past.

An unusual story and unusually wonderful writing carry The Mapmaker’s Opera on wings above and beyond the norm. Presenting the narrative as a tale told by an old grandmother, Gonzalez seamlessly weaves the past and future while painting word-pictures of both the exotic and mundane, whether addressing the reader boldly from time to time to pull them into the story, deftly changing point of view, or making us laugh with her gentle sense of humor. Presented as an opera in three acts with a map as the score, the structure, too, is mightily impressive, as the author employs recurring images, particularly that of mapmaking—describing a beautifully drawn illustration, showing us a character scratch a design in the dirt with a stick—to propel her story forward.

While I groaned at the novel’s ending—exactly, of course, as I was meant to do—I found the story engaging, compelling and above all, complete. Moreover, I’ll never look at a bird with the same indifference again. Highly recommended.