IThe Mapmaker's Wife


The Mapmakers's Wife


Isabel Godin's unthinkable adventure had 18th-century Europe buzzing for more than 20 years.

Who could believe an upper-class Peruvian woman could step out of a privileged life and plunge through 3,000 miles of untamed South American mountains, rivers and jungle? All because of her love for a husband she married at age 13, but had not heard from for 19 years?

The mapmaker's wifeIsabel's ordeal should have immortalized her as one of the most daring women of the Enlightenment. Instead, history served one last cruel fate -- her story was forgotten for hundreds of years.
After United State journalist Robert Whitaker stumbled onto pieces of Isabel's tale, his own research adventure resulted in a book called "The Mapmaker's Wife."

Isabel's story is set against a complicated, intriguing backdrop that Whitaker painstakingly constructs. France's Academy of Sciences knew the Earth was a sphere, but what was its precise shape and size? By comparing calculations at the equator with those made in Europe, the French could solve the mystery.

Politics and greed also were in play. Spain drew a heavy curtain of secrecy over its colonies, keeping other nations out of Mexico and Peru where gold, silver and food were plentiful.

France, England and other neighbors were envious. Getting a look inside South America, under the guise of a scientific expedition, piqued interest in Paris. Spain finally consented and, in 1735, the French contingent launched what would be called "the greatest expedition the world has ever known."

The explorers spent about 10 years in South America, preparing detailed maps, recording new plants and animals, and learning about new cultures and languages. They faced disease, infighting, harassment and death.

One of the youngest explorers, Jean Godin, fell in love with Isabel; they wed in 1741. Planning to move to France, Godin ignored more common routes and decided to cross the frozen Andes and travel down the uncharted Amazon to the Atlantic. He eventually became stranded in French Guiana thanks to politics, money and a series of bad decisions.
For lonely Isabel, years went by until a message finally arrived from her husband.

Against family protests and public scandal, she set off in 1769. Whitaker's tale picks up its pace as he tells of Isabel's harrowing two-year adventure to reach her husband.

She lost everything and everyone with her during the trip. But she survived, permanently disfigured by unrelenting insects during days of being lost in the jungle, alone and without food.
Her love kept her going. And on July 18, 1770, she saw her husband for the first time in 21 years.

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