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The Mapmaker's Daughter

The Mapmaker's Daughter

by Laurel Corona

About the Author

Laurel Corona is the author of three novels: Finding Emilie, Penelope’s Daughter, and The Four Seasons. She graduated from the University of California, Davis, received her MA at the University of Chicago, and her PhD at Davis. She has taught at San Diego State University, UC San Diego, and San Diego City College. She lives in San Diego. www.laurelcorona.com

Reading Group Guide

1. The Jewish community depicted in The Mapmaker’s Daughter is divided between those who have given up Judaism for Christianity, those who pretend to be Christians but secretly practice Judaism, and those who live openly as Jews. What are their reasons for what they have chosen, and how do they view the choices of the others?

2. In her first musings while she waits in Valencia, Amalia says, “There’s a knowledge deep in our bones that some lines cannot be crossed without becoming unrecognizable to ourselves—the only death truly to be feared.” Does this resonate in your own life?

3. As Amalia matures, how does the meaning of the atlas evolve emotionally and philosophically for her?

4. Have your relationships with your own mother and father and/or your children’s relationships with you been as different as Amalia’s are with each of her parents? What does Amalia want from her mother? From her father? Does she get it?

5. The Mapmaker’s Daughter is set among people who think very differently about many things than people today do. What has changed the most? The least?

6. Amalia’s naïveté in her early years sometimes makes it difficult to see people for what they really are. What clues enable you to see what she fails to understand about Diogo? What other characters do you think you see more clearly than she does?

7. Both Judah and Simona function as friend and counselor to Amalia. What advice do they offer that makes the most sense in your own life? Have you had someone who filled the same role for you?

8. Amalia is uncertain whether her father would want her to perform Jewish rituals to prepare his body for burial. What do you think he would have wanted?

9. Judah explains that love and power must be in balance to reach the highest form of compassion. What does this mean? Do you agree?

10. “Anywhere you can be a Jew is home…and exile is anywhere you cannot.” Does this apply to any aspect of one’s identity?

11. Amalia’s reaction to Jamil is immediate and powerful. Have you ever had an encounter like that?

12. How does poetry, both their own and that of famous poets, help Amalia and Jamil build their relationship?

13. Though having different religions ultimately divides Amalia and Jamil, are there ways in which their religious identities strengthen their relationship?

14. The ritual of the mikveh occurs numerous times in The Mapmaker’s Daughter. What does it mean for the women who practice it?

15. When Amalia can’t decide if she should stay in Queluz or go to Granada with Jamil, Simona tells her, “Living here in Queluz should be your choice, not just something where you say, ‘Oh, look where I ended up,’ without knowing how it happened.” Is there anything about your life that illustrates what Simona means?

16. What does Amalia offer her daughter that was missing in her own childhood? How does that influence the kind of adult Eliana becomes?

17. What does Amalia find most surprising about Granada? Was the Muslim culture also surprising to you? How?

18. Did Amalia do the right thing ending her relationship with Jamil? Is there any way they might have been able to salvage it?

19. Elizabeth’s husband, King Juan, has been quoted as saying it was “better to be born to a journeyman than to the King of Castile.” After reading about the Castilian court, do you agree?

20. Amalia wonders, “How can it be that I can say in great detail what happened when I was eight or twelve, but now shake my head in bewilderment when I try to remember year by year what has happened since? Decades of my life are swallowed whole, and it doesn’t seem possible that I have filled each day with one thing or another.” Do you see your life the same way?

21. Amalia and Eliana cope with the loss of their world in Queluz by cleaning house. Have you found ritual ways to console yourself in times of great turmoil and grief? Were you surprised by what gave you comfort?
22. “The success of old age is to die while you still wish to live,” Judah says. “To take your last breath still wanting more.” Do you agree?

23. When Nita’s parents are killed, Amalia describes “Torquemada’s stark vision of divine retribution ris[ing] in smoke above the crowd in the square, while in this dark and narrow street, every wall, every cobblestone, every doorway is charged with the sacredness of God’s presence in this moment.” Why does she view the moment of Nita’s rescue as being so sacred?

24. Based on what you learned by reading The Mapmaker’s Daughter and what you already know about Ferdinand and Isabella, Torquemada, and the Inquisition, what do you think Ferdinand and Isabella were trying to accomplish by expelling the Jews from Spain?

25. The Mapmaker’s Daughter is intended as a showcase of the frequently unsung strength and courage of women. At what points in the novel did you feel that most profoundly? Do any of the characters stand out in particular for you in this respect?

26. The ghost of Amalia’s grandfather, mapmaker Abraham Cresques, says of the atlas at the end of the novel, “Though we didn’t know it at the time, it has its own reasons for being.” What reasons for the atlas’s existence are revealed during the novel? What future reasons might there be?

Suggestions for Book Club Activities

1. Look up images of the Catalan Atlas and discuss its characteristics and how these are brought into the novel.

2. Look up the rituals and blessings involved in the mikveh and/or Shabbat and discuss how these might reflect and shape the worldview of people who observe these practices.

3. Read the poems in the book aloud.

4. Get a CD of or download medieval Sephardic music and discuss how it influences the way you view the culture described in the book.

5. Look up “Judah Abravanel, Poem to His Son” online to read what Judah Abravanel wrote after sending his infant son to Portugal to foil the kidnapping plot.


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