The Exile And The Mapmaker by Emma Musty

The Exile and The Mapmaker share the pain of loves lost in a story that weaves the despair of fading memories with the hope of reconciling the past with the present, before all that is left are emptiness and regrets.

Nebay is the Eritrean refugee, desperate to be re-united with his sister yet mourning the loss of his lover while Theo is the ageing cartographer who realises his window of opportunity to make things right is gradually shutting as Alzheimers begins to lay claim to all his yesterdays.

Paris provides the setting as Nebay and Theo seek to give meaning to their lives and Emma Musty imbues descriptions of the French capital with historical and dramatic overtones as its glorious but ultimately broken past, populated by a diverse and often persecuted society, is seen to be fighting against generations of decision making that raises questions about their morality when confronted with the most extreme personal and political battles.

Theo’s daughter, Elise, is both the story’s conscience and the public face of years of painful reflection. She becomes a reluctant passenger in her father’s final journey to validate his emotional life and is forced to re-assess her damaged childhood as she observes her father’s previously concealed character unravel as his fight to retain clarity of thought leads to unexpected revelations about her mother.

The violent struggle for Algeria’s freedom from French colonial rule provides some context for Theo’s idealistic values and is also the trigger for the emotional sterility that stalks his life thereafter as he is unable to draw a line under the catastrophic event that ultimately defined his life and his inability to allow himself to love and be loved.

The author sensitively conveys the contemporary issue of displacement, both physical and mental, but gives this real meaning by the characterisations of Nebay and Theo; the former just fighting to survive knowing that he will only be whole again when re-united with his sister and the latter who can only achieve closure by finding his lost love.

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