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Book Review| The exile and the mapmaker by Emma Musty

I am slowly catching up on my backlog of book reviews. I need to catch up quickly before I forget what they were actually about.

I’ve had the exile and the mapmaker on my TBR list for a good few months before finally getting around to it.

Set predominantly in present day France it tells the story of Theo, Elise and Nebay.

Theo, an aging Parisian cartographer, is desperately searching for the woman he once loved before Alzheimer’s takes his memories of her.

Elise, his estranged daughter, moves in to take care of him. She still blames him for the tragic loss of her mother and is struggling with this new forced intimacy.

Nebay, an Eritrean refugee, becomes Theo’s carer and friend. Unbeknownst to Elise, Nebay does not have a visa for France and is working illegally in order to support his sister.

Each character takes a chapter, each chapter intertwines the present day with the characters memories.

It touches on Theo’s memories of the second world war and his mother’s Jewish heritage. It looks at his time completing his national service and Algeria’s fight for independence from France. Theo struggles with what he’s asked to do in the army, he questions how his country’s actions against Algeria are any different to the Nazi party’s occupation of France. 

Through a chance meeting he builds a close friendship with Nebay, an Eritrean living on the margins of society. He’s had to flee his country because his life is at risk. He becomes Theo’s carer and agrees to help him find Monique, the woman he loved who went to fight in the Algerian revolution.

Elise, not only having to contend with living with her father, also has a job at immigration on behalf of the UK home office. She interviews immigrants hoping to gain visas to visit the UK and is under pressure to reject more applications.

As you can probably guess, this book raises some big questions around race, humanity, forgiveness, relationships and survival.

“There was nothing more dangerous to the journey than the human tendency to care too much. Travellers must remain strangers if they are to survive each other’s loss” Emma Musty

It explores the lives of refugees, how they are treated, the risks they are willing to take.

Nebay wants to be reunited with his sister in the UK. He’s had to leave Eritrea without saying goodbye, he knows his parents have died in the time he’s been away. He’s dealing with trauma that he still can’t talk about, he’s alone and desperate to be with his only remaining family.

Seeing how people like Nebay are treated throughout this book and in history, made me as a reader think about what would happen if things were different. 

It’s the idea of ‘but for the grace of God go I’. How we are able to live our lives is down to luck of the draw and where we’re born and as Nebay rightly recognises things would be very different if refugees were British….

“What if the UK ran out of its resources, what if the sea rose and swallowed it, or a drought came and ate all the crops and dried out all the water? Would the starving British refugees make their way to the continent of Africa? And if they did, would they be welcomed, or would they be forced to make do along the borders in shanty towns with picket fences? If British refugees were treated in this manner, he knew it would be an international outrage. When you had once owned the world, you could not be forced to its margins”. Emma Musty

My thoughts

Oh, I wanted to like this more.

I really expected to like this more.

It’s good but it didn’t blow me away.

My big problem with The Exile and the Mapmaker is that it felt a little rushed in places, I needed a bit more depth.

There was a lot happening in this book and some really heavy themes that Emma Musty is dealing with. 

I applaud that, how we treat refugees should be discussed, I like that authors shine a light on this topic and question what would happen if the tables were turned, I just felt this book could have gone a lot further.

The story moved quickly, certain parts of the plot were glossed over and resolved in the spaces of a few pages, in places that wasn’t realistic. 

At one point I had to stop and check whether it was a book for children. I actually think it’d work better as a children’s book. I think it’d be perfect way to introduce younger teenagers to the themes around refugees and spark discussions around how we as a country treat people.

I liked the story, it does make you think but I wasn’t swept up in it and I didn’t feel that strongly about the characters, which is a massive shame.

I know others have read this and loved it, so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, I wouldn’t discount it completely, give it a go, you may love it too. For me, it just didn’t quite hit the mark.

Have you read the exile and the mapmaker? I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

10 thoughts on “Book Review| The exile and the mapmaker by Emma Musty Leave a comment

  1. Thanks, Sarah. These kind of stories are so often trying to push the themes that bit too hard. Easy to do. I had to suck out everything about HEELS school except the essentials in Call Billy and it hurts…

    Liked by 1 person

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