by Angela Narth
Describing a novel such as The Mapmaker's Opera is as difficult as trying to capture the essence of a rainbow on film. Toronto author BTa Gonzalez, a Canadian of Spanish descent, tells a story within an opera within a book. This is the author's second novel, a strong follow-up to her critically acclaimed 1998 work The Bitter Taste of Time. With the emotion of Isabel Allende and the imagery of Gabriel Garcfa M▀rquez, Gonzalez tells a tale of a young Spanish man named Diego Clemente, hired in Seville to travel to Mexico to work as assistant cartographer and illustrator to American naturalist Edward Nelson who is cataloguing the feathered beauty of the Yucat▀n.
The story is about how Diego falls hopelessly in love, first with nature and then with a lovely but unattainable young woman who shares his dreams. It is about the steep price indigenous Mexicans had to pay so their rapacious overlords could amass riches beyond their needs; and it is about two birds-two plain grey passenger pigeons-members of a species on the verge of extinction, held captive by one particularly greedy overlord.
The Mapmaker's Opera is beguiling, perhaps because the reader experiences it as a multi-faceted journey-from turn-of-the-century Spain to a Mexico on the threshold of The Revolution; from sadness to exuberance; from subservience to triumph. Our guide on this journey is the narrator, who recounts an old story heard many times from a now-silent relative. The narrator himself is guided by the finely illustrated map Don Diego Clemente created and left for posterity.
The narrator accompanies us everywhere on the journey, occasionally tapping us on the shoulder so that we don't miss the glorious Aztec Parakeet that has settled on a nearby branch; or the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl that peers out from its hiding place; or occasionally nudging to remind us that Senor So-and-So is entering stage left, or that Dona Such-and-Such is sitting at center stage waiting for us to be quiet so the story can continue.
This is a delight of a book that will stir up palpable images of Spain and Mexico, two lands of startling beauty. It will leave an afterimage of the people who were slaves to Mexico's colonial past, the thinly veiled subjugation of its indigenous peoples, and, as ever, women of all classes.