Author – Robert Whitaker
Type – Book
Genre – Nonfiction
Publisher – Basic Books
Publication Date – 2004
The galley for The Mapmaker’s Wife came across my desk in my early days as a development assistant at a small production company and had all the makings of a book I’d dread having to read: historical non-fiction, 350+ pages, a jacket that didn’t really excite me. . . . However, once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.
Set in 18th Century colonial Peru, the story follows Isabel Gramesón, a young woman from an elite Peruvian family. Barely a teen, she married Jean Godin, a Frenchman visiting the territory on a scientific expedition conducting research at the equator to prove Galileo’s theory that the earth was round. When Jean traveled across South America to get permission from colonial authorities to bring his wife back to France with him, he wound up unable to make his way back through Spanish controlled territories to retrieve her.
Shortly after their separation, Isabel gave birth to their daughter. After waiting 20 years to be reunited with her husband and the death of the daughter he never got to meet, Isabel decided she’d set out on her own to find Jean.
It was Isabel’s journey, which began with her being carried through the mountains by servants who either died or abandoned her to continue alone through the Amazon that convinced me why Isabel’s story needed to be told on screen. Not only did she make the bulk of the journey by herself, but her transformation—both physical and emotional—is one any actor would relish the chance to portray and could likely garner some noms with the right person in the role. Isabel left a grieving, spoiled aristocrat and emerged from her journey with her hair turned white and her skin ravaged by bloodthirsty insects, but reunited with a love that had endured a 20-year separation.
Isabel’s story was so utterly fascinating, I just knew if we didn’t snag up The Mapmaker’s Wife, another production company would.
Cut to: 15 years later. . . .
So why was it never made? Well, The Mapmaker’s Wife was a bear of a read, dense with scientific details about Jean’s expedition and the events necessitating it, and it takes ages to get to the meat of Isabel’s journey. Period pieces can also be costly. My sense is that Isabel’s journey alone through the rainforest and down the Amazon alone was, at least at the time, considered to be a little too isolated, internal, and indie to be a hit with an American audience.
But the themes the story explores are universal, compelling, and emotionally engaging. Pair the underlying love story and Isabel’s transformative journey with a filmmaker like Alfonso Cuarón, and The Mapmaker’s Wife could prove a book worth dusting off for a second look.
The Book Pipeline Spotlight articles cover novels, non-fiction, and other published works that we feel deserve adaptation for film and television. Know of a story that’s flying under the radar you’d like to see adapted? Email us.