Servants of the Map

Barrett, Andrea. Servants of the Map. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002.

“Servants of the Map”
Max Vigne is an English Civil Junior Sub-Assistant surveyor in the Himalayas away from his wife and young family. As a member of the surveying party, through letters he describes his daily existence, leaving out the hardships and cruelties (like finding the body of a man who apparently died of the elements). Through those same letters the reader is exposed to Max’s inability to synthesize with this surroundings. Being from England he is embarrassed by his lily-white skin while everyone else on the team is dark and tanned. The differences go deeper than skin and culture. Max is drawn to the natural world, wanting to explore it more than reconnect with his marriage and life back home.

“The Cure”
It is December 1905 in the Adirondacks. Elizabeth and Andrew run a private home for health-seekers. They have nine boarders at the moment and one, Mr. Martin Sawyer, is dying. Elizabeth thinks her husband hides whenever someone is sick but really he is channeling the healing powers of Nora Kynd. Andrew believes in the healing qualities of magnets. They “shift the shape of the aura surrounding each person into a new and more healthful alignment” (p 203). On Nora’s birthday he honors her spirit by placing magnets in the chimney, hoping it will help Mr. Sawyer.
There are a lot of other characters to keep track of. Here are just a few:

  • Livvie and Rosellen – they help Elizabeth run the house
  • Mrs Temple – the nurse who left three days earlier
  • Dorrie and Emeline – they also run private homes for health-seekers
  • Bessie Brennan – Dorrie’s mother. She was the first to rent a room to a sick stranger
  • Mr. Woodruff – a Baltimore banker who roomed with Bessie
  • Olive – Bessie’s cousin
  • Aaron Brown – a boarder who died
  • Mr. Davis – another boarder
  • Mr. Cameron – an astronomy teacher from Connecticut, also a boarder
  • Nora Kynd – she taught Elizabeth, Dorrie and Emeline their trade. She came from Detroit, Michigan and has passed away.

Barrett takes the time to jump back to Nora Kynd’s story – how she fled to America from Ireland; how she was separated from her only living relatives, her two younger brothers; how she befriended a healer by the name of Fanny McCloud who taught her everything she knew; how she came to the Adirondacks. Like “Servants of the Map” this story focuses on science, this time trying to cure people of consumption or tuberculosis.

Line I liked, “Trying to stay in touch without touch; how that effort changes us” (p 29).

Reason read: June is short story month and so the short stories continue.

Author fact: Barrett was born in Boston.

Book trivia: Servants of the Map was nominated for a Pulitzer. Very cool.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).



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