A Mapmaker’s Dream: The Meditations of Fra Mauro, Cartographer to the Court of Venice by James Cowan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I read this book when it first came out in 1997, then just reread it again. I wish I would not have reread it, since the shine has faded. If this is your first dip into a fictional pseudo-history, you might like A Mapmaker's Dream, as I did on the first reading. At the time, I was eyeball-deep in academic texts on history and some philosophical writings (Foucault, Derrida, and Chomsky, mostly). So the escape into a fictional realm that read like non-fiction was a treat.
Since that time I've discovered (and sometimes rediscovered) several authors who do the same thing much better than Cowan did here and, despite the chronology of my encounters with their works, did it earlier, as well. If you feel the need to read A Mapmaker's Dream, may I recommend, rather, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars, Rhys Hughes' A New Universal History of Infamy, Ivo Andric's The Bridge on the Drina, or Norman Lock's/George Belden's Land of the Snow Men? Each of these handles the pseudo-historical fiction sub-genre with greater joy and acumen than Cowan's novel. Each of these novels had me voraciously chewing my way through them and at least a couple of them have stood up well on a re-read (Calvino's and Hughes' in particular). These works filled me with excitement and (sometimes grim) laughter, whereas the philosophizing in Cowan's work had the opposite effect, at least the second time around. A Mapmaker's Dream was, as the title might imply, a soporific, causing me to dream more than to read. Like a drug, it's easy to build up a tolerance for this sort of thing and need a stronger, headier dose of the stuff to get excited about it. Unfortunately, I didn't find my fix between the covers of this book. To quote Huey Lewis (apologies, I'm a child of the '80s): "I need a new drug".
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