In sixteenth-century Venice, in an island monastery, a cloistered monk experiences the adventure of a lifetime — all within the confines of his cell. Part historical fiction, part philosophical mystery, A Mapmaker's Dream tells the story of Fra Mauro and his struggle to realize his life's work: to make a perfect map — one that represents the full breadth of Creation. News of Mauro's projects attracts explorers, pilgrims, travelers, and merchants, all eager to contribute their accounts of faraway people and places. A she listens to the tales of the strange and fantastic things they've seen, Mauro comes to regard the world as much more than continents and kingdoms: that it is also made up of a vast and equally real interior landscape of beliefs, aspirations, and dreams. Mauro's map grows and takes shape, becoming both more complete and incomprehensible. In the process, the boundaries of Mauro's world are pushed to the extreme, raising questions about the relationship between representation, imagination, and the nature of reality itself.
In Cowan's luminescent little tale, a 16 th century Venetian monk named fra Mauro slaves to create a map of the world — a map that will sum up humankind's broadest knowledge and experience. He is perfectly situated, for Venice, a merchant city at the crossroads, 'has the world in th epalm of its hand." Fra Mauro absorbs all he hears— the story of an oyster shell embedded in an icon, tales from Persia and the land of the Tartars — and attempts to incorporate it all into his map. He also has a shocking encounter with the cartography of a Tunisian slave whose world view is very different from his own. Each tale falls like a tiny gem in the reader's lap, and the atmosphere is at once dreamy and sharply detailed, throwing in relief another world and another time. In the end, Fra Mauro has 'no way of knowing whether I was reflecting earth's existence or my own.," laving us to consider the nature of knowledge, self, and the world. Not much happens, and the actual creation of the map in anticlimatic, but this lovely meditation will enchant many readers. — Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal , Vol. 121, No. 5, September 15, 1996