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The Cartographer of No Man's Land

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  938 Ratings  ·  250 Reviews
From a hardscrabble fishing village in Nova Scotia to the collapsing trenches of France, a richly atmospheric debut novel about a family divided by World War I.

When adventurous Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and search for his beloved brother-in-law. With his navigation experience, Angus is assured a position a
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 28th 2013 by Liveright
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Apr 14, 2014 Carol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
P.S. Duffy's was one of the superb authors to speak at Books On The Night Stand's Booktopia Vermont event this past weekend. Procrastination found me reading Penny Duffy's The Cartographer of No Man's Land at the last minute. I literally finished at lunch just before her talk.

I truly did not realize I could be so interested in a book about the first world war. Penny Duffy feels this is due to America's distance from the causes and issues. The reality of war jump right off the page as her descri
Apr 23, 2014 Heather rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous writing with well-crafted, evocative sentences that I would often re-read just to savor them. The Nova Scotia & France storylines were equally engaging. The characters were interesting & complex and I loved the often atypical family dynamics. Angus and Simon Peter are sympathetic protagonists and several of the secondary characters (especially Charlotte) either quickly, or eventually, became favorites of mine.
May 02, 2016 Jane rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 08, 2014 Chrissie rated it liked it
ETA: I figured it out. Even though I ought to love this book, I don't, and that is because there is little humor in it. I don't need laugh out loud humor, but I want to smile at the way the author draws a situation or a person. No, there is very little humor in this book so reading it is kind of a chore. It ought to be good, but it isn't really. Don't tell me humor doesn't belong in a book about a war. There is always something to smile at when a book is about people!

I just picked up The Other
Amy S
Dec 23, 2013 Amy S rated it it was amazing
"And I wonder why I do not care for the things that are like the things that were...Does half my heart lie buried there..."

4.5 stars

Above is a poem recited during a hospital scene in this book. The atmosphere of this time period is created well. Characters are written thoroughly and woven into your heart without you realizing it, so that the loss of any of them is felt terribly.

Angus McGrath leaves Nova Scotia Canada to find his brother-in-law. He signs up to fight for Canada in The Great War,
Dec 05, 2014 Antonia rated it it was amazing
This is an accomplished and beautifully written novel, quality historical fiction with memorable characters, passion, devastation, and beauty. The chapters alternate between the fishing village of Snag Harbor, Nova Scotia, and the French Front during WWI. The point of view shifts between Angus McGrath, a coastal trade skipper and amateur artist and his 13-year-old son, Simon Peter. When Angus’s beloved brother-in-law is reported missing in action in France, Angus enlists — against his father’s w ...more
Apr 01, 2014 Julie rated it it was ok
It doesn't get any more flat or colourless than this. One would think, with all the inherent drama of WWI that this would ring with rage or pathos; instead, we are bored into insensibility for 366 pages. This is only a good representation of the horrors of World War I if the Allies won the war by boring their enemy to death.

I should have been in full alert by page 73: "... Hanson and Tanner sat solemnly popping lice eggs off their uniforms with lit matches. Two others beyond them were hunched ov
Jennifer Hendzlik
Nov 22, 2013 Jennifer Hendzlik rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, rl
*Excited! My review made it onto Library Reads November 2013 list.

"Angus walked down to the end of the wharf and felt a release that filled the sky. Beauty had not abandoned him. He'd abandoned it. On the battlefield he'd risked life in the midst of death. And he had not risked it since. He closed his eyes and let the stars fall around him."

Angus MacGrath is caught between the artist he longs to be and the sailor his father believes is more fitting for a
Jun 14, 2014 Candice rated it really liked it
Recommended to Candice by: Carol K.
Another excellent work of historical fiction about World War I. Since my grandfather served in the infantry in this war, I always think of him when I read books on the subject. He never talked about it, and I wonder what he saw and felt. This book brought all of the horrors of war to its pages. Nova Scotia fisherman and artist Angus McGrath enlisted in the Canadian army because he hoped to go to Europe as a cartographer and find his brother-in-law, Ebbin, who was missing in action. Since there w ...more
Feb 04, 2016 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This tale of the Great War is lyrical, lovely and still suitably horrifying. Unbelievable that this is the first novel by P.S. Duffy.

Her sure hand brings to life Angus, wife Hettie, pacifist father Duncan and son Simon Peter. Angus's background as a Nova Scotia sailor helps him make his way through the trenches in France. Ostensibly signing up to locate his missing brother-in-law Ebbin Hant, kilt-clad Angus finds his plans are subject to illogical orders from above and happenstance.

At home Si
Apr 08, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-reads
A rich and sensitive novel about war, home, love, and family. While slow, it was worth taking my time. An incredible debut by an "older" writer, it gives us all hope!
Feb 04, 2014 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, fiction
The story begins in a small fishing village in Nova Scotia. We see a father and son sailing together in a tiny boat, the father-&-son bond strong, the scene is one of tranquility and beauty. It forms one bookend of this story that serves as a strong foundation for the trials ahead.

It is WWI. The father in the boat is Angus MacGrath, and his son is 13 year old Simon Peter. Angus is a troubled man, trying to do his duty as a husband, father and son. In 1915 his brother-in-law and best friend,
Feb 24, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry
Set against the backdrop of World War I, the story alternates between a town in Nova Scotia and the trenches of France. It is the story of the impact of the war on a family, but also the townspeople. Angus MacGrath had spent much of his life on the water sailing up and down the coast. When his brother-in-law enlists and then goes missing, Angus enlists with the idea of trying to find Ebbin. Angus' navigational skills are in need and he assumes he will have a "safe" job as a cartographer in Lond ...more
The Cartographer of No Man's Land is an engrossing and beautifully written novel of how the war affects the men in the trenches as well as the families left behind. Angus MacGrath is the captain of the Lauralee, a Canadian coastal trader as well as a talented, but unknown artist. When the news arrives that his brother-in-law and best friend, Ebbin, is missing in action in France, Angus is devastated by his wife's despondency at the loss of her brother. Leaving behind his young son, Simon Peter, ...more
Elizabeth Andrew
Nov 19, 2014 Elizabeth Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
I loved this Canadian mariner's perspective on WWI--nuanced, broken, full of affection. Here's a sample passage, an exchange between the soldier's son and his teacher:

"Do you believe it? That people can get messages from the dead?"

Mr. Heist considered this. "'Belief' is the word, isn't it, Simon? We believe in many things that are unseen and for which we have no evidence...I think of it this way. Suppose you had a collection of metal filings on a piece of paper. Under it a magnet. What would hap
Jun 11, 2016 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 Stars

Set on the front lines of World War I Europe and also in a small Nova Scotia fishing village, P.S. Duffy's The Cartographer of No Man's Land is a engaging novel of life during war. The narrative shifts between the stories of Angus MacGrath, an officer with the Canadian Army stationed in France, and that of his young son Simon Peter, who must get through life back at home in Nova Scotia without his father to guide him.

Duffy does an excellent job developing the novel's principal characte
Mar 26, 2014 Karen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: booktopia-2014
Very much enjoyed this book! The parts in France on the battlefields were vivid and heartbreaking. So much to talk about in this book, can't wait to meet the author at Booktopia 2014!
Ron and Judy
Mar 01, 2014 Ron and Judy rated it really liked it
Moves seamlessly between home and the front giving fresh insights to both.
A good read for all sexes and ages.
Tess Mertens-Johnson
This book vacillates between a fishing village in Snag Harbor and the war in France.
Angus hears that his brother-in-law is MIA in France during WWI. He then enlists to go find him, or bring back his remains. While told his cartographer skills will be used in Canada, he is sent to the front.
While he is gone his son Simon Peter becomes the “man of the house” and grows up by helping his mother. He deals with his cranky grandfather, meets a young girl and helps out where he can.
There are maritime ph
Patti's Book Nook
While the proper dictionary definition of "No Man's Land" is "the terrain between front lines of entrenched armies", it is most commonly associated with the First World War in which neither side wished to move openly or to seize due to fear of being attacked by the enemy in the process (Wikipedia). Flamethrowers, gas, mortar shells, bombs, and gunshots would be flung back and forth for hours or days. There were occasional scheduled ceasefires for a few hours, say, until 6:30, so that each side ...more
Buck Edwards
Apr 05, 2014 Buck Edwards rated it really liked it
At times "The Cartographer of No Man's Land" shines, swelling with lyrical beauty and thoughtful imagery, giving the reader both the beauty of life on Snag Harbor, and the paradoxical lack of beauty of the trenches. But P.S. Duffy's book is not without flaws, and a want of deeper knowledge into some characters.
We are hung up on men, who the reader immediately deems major, only to have them disappear into minor window dressing. Even the protagonist, Angus, lacked some flesh and bone as the story
Nov 12, 2013 Wendy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Wendy by: Goodreads Giveaways
"The Cartographer of No Man's Land" which I won from Goodreads Giveaways is a poignant and chilling story set in 1916 when the horrors of the first world war ravaged Europe. In Nova Scotia far from the battlefield, Angus MacGrath and his wife Hettie learn that her impulsive and inconsiderate brother Ebbin is missing in action. Torn by his wife's despair and the mystery of his friend's disappearance, Angus enlists. His plan is to develop his skill in London as a cartographer while searching for t ...more
Jean Riescher
Jun 19, 2013 Jean Riescher rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading this engrossing story and it did what all wonderful books do, it made me a bit philosophical, it planted the seeds of ideas.

I went into reading this expecting great things as I have a soft spot for Canadian maritime fiction and for fiction set in times of tumult that explore family connections. I wasn't disappointed.

The narrative is driven by two members of a family divided by war and an ocean but the ocean doesn't separate the tumult each endures. War is an awful thing.

Jenny Kim
Mar 02, 2014 Jenny Kim rated it liked it
Beautifully written. Wonderfully descriptive, the images are vivid and at times beautiful like a painting and the emotions are tangible and relatable. However, the violence and horror are subdued (I read more graphic stuff) and the story that takes place in home front at Snag Harbour felt bit nostalgic, like an ideal small town, where everyone knows each other plus some familiar character types like ones I’ve seen in TV, movies or other books brought down my rating. (e.g. Rich, vociferous lady)
Nov 26, 2014 Wendy rated it really liked it
This is an elegant, understated portrayal of one family's struggle to find their bearings in a world thrown off-balance by World War I. Solidly constructed and researched, it is a character-driven page-turner.
Julie M
Jun 24, 2014 Julie M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Pat Barker's trilogy
Recommended to Julie by: Star Tribune? GoodReads/BOTN?
Exquisite writing. P.S. Duffy's historical novel about a Canadian soldier and his family during WW I. The research this author must have done! Reminds me of the real cost of war, and the Great War was especially violent. (What have we learned??) Think of it: a century ago: Wounds both mental and physical were especially horrendous on all sides. The CEF was of key importance in the battles in France (side-by-side with British soldiers in the trenches) in defeating the German Army, most notably, a ...more
May 14, 2014 Laura rated it it was amazing
This book is a fascinating reflection on war and what it means to be an artist. WWI seems unbelievable to us today. How could such brutality and stupidity exist? How could anyone survive it? With great difficulty, according to this book's presentation of Angus, painter of simple watercolor scenes. Beautifully written, this book is one to savor.
Beautiful and evocative, this is a harrowing look at the horrors of war that focuses on the minutiae of one family's experiences in World War I. Angus MacGrath enlists, over his pacifist's father's strong objections, to go to the European front to search for his brother-in-law, who is missing and presumed dead. Angus is a sailor and an artist. He leaves behind his 12-year-old son, Simon Peter and his wife. Angus endures the hardships of trench warfare and Simon Peter endures the hardships of pre ...more
Priscilla Dicarlo
Apr 15, 2014 Priscilla Dicarlo rated it really liked it
I generally do not read many historical fiction books but, that is why I'm a Booktopian! Duffy's writing made me feel like I was in the thick of the war with mud and the unknown all around me. It brought to mind how awful and brutal war was (and still is) back then and how people really didn't understand the returning soldiers. It is a multi-layered story about war, love and home.
I met P S Duffy at Booktopia VT and now I like the novel even more! Her research was incredible and made the book mor
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P.S. Duffy was born in central China and grew up in New England and Maryland. She spent 35 summers sailing in Nova Scotia where her family roots go back to the 1750s. She has a degree in History from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec and a Ph.D. in Communication Disorders from the University of Minnesota. Currently, she is a writer in the neurosciences for Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN where sh ...more
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