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Servants of the Map: Stories Paperback – February 17, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

No one limns the opposing pull of inner and outer worlds more eloquently than Andrea Barrett. Her naturalists, explorers, scientists, and healers are driven to work and above all to know; they categorize, theorize, and collect the phenomena of the natural world with an urgency that feels like physical need. But they are motivated equally by desire and loneliness, and the theme of domestic life runs like a countermelody through each of the six lovely, deeply memorable stories in Servants of the Map. The narrator of the title story, a cartographer in the Grand Trigonometrical Survey of India, is a timid, home- and family-loving man, but the Himalayas strike him with the force of a revelation. The heroine of the lyrical "Theories of Rain" is a creature of strong feelings and appetites, driven to ask questions about the world around her in the same spirit as she longs for a neighbor and mourns the brother separated from her in childhood. Her scientific curiosity is scarcely different from her desire: "Through that channel of longing, the world enters me."

Fans of Barrett's earlier books (the sublime Ship Fever and Voyage of the Narwhal) will delight in tracing the stories and characters that wind in and out of these three books, producing the sense of something lovely, ongoing, and whole. In the final story, Elizabeth finds consolation in her work caring for tubercular patients--"as if, in the order and precarious harmony of this house and those it shelters she might, for all that gets lost in this life, at last have found a cure." The same might be said of science, and of Barrett's art. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Travelers, naturalists, nurses, botanists, surveyors a multitude of seekers and healers populate this luminous new collection of two novellas and four stories by National Book Award-winner Barrett (Ship Fever; The Voyage of the Narwhal). Tracking her wandering protagonists from the banks of the Schuylkill in Pennsylvania in 1810 to the Himalayas in the 1860s and on to New York's Finger Lakes in the late 20th century, Barrett elegantly portrays the transitory nature of life and love. Selected for Best American Short Stories (2001) and The O. Henry Awards (2001), the title novella follows young British surveyor Max Vigne on a long, arduous mapping expedition as he writes letters home to a cherished wife that become a chronicle of the distance that is growing between them. Partings and reunions of loved ones recur in these stories. In "Theories of Rain," a young orphan studying the mysteries of precipitation and passion yearns for the brother she was separated from as a child; in the novella "The Cure," a nurse at a village in the Adirondacks finds the brother she lost years ago and yet struggles to communicate with him. In the contemporary "The Forest," Barrett creates a lovely comedy of the inevitable gap of perspectives between an illustrious Polish scientist who has grown nostalgic with age and a young woman who yearns to break free of the past. The mark of Barrett's artistry is her ability to illuminate loneliness and isolation, but also to capture the improbably forged bonds between her disparate characters. Familiar figures appear and reappear in more than one story, and many readers will be able to make connections between these tales and Barrett's earlier works. Yet each is rich and independent and beautiful and should draw Barrett many new admirers. Author tour. (Feb. 1) Forecast: An elegant sepia-toned jacket and Barrett's rapidly growing reputation as one of the finest writers at work today will assure a substantial audience for this radiant collection.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393323579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323573
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrea Barrett was born in Boston, MA in 1954 and grew up on Cape Cod. She studied biology at Union College, in Schenectady, NY and started writing fiction in her twenties, after several brief stints in graduate school. She lived in Rochester, NY for many years and now lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, photographer Barry Goldstein. She's the author of six novels, most recently THE AIR WE BREATHE, and three collections of stories: SHIP FEVER, which received the 1996 National Book Award, SERVANTS OF THE MAP, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and, most recently, ARCHANGEL. Visit her official website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Walter R. Mead on February 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Andrea Barrett has done it again. This collection of short stories has all the characteristics that placed Ship Fever and Voyage of the Narwhale among the most accomplished fictions of our time. The lucid and lovely prose, the ruthless honesty, the shocking psychological insight, compassion and deep research of the earlier works is here, but Ms Barrett continues to grow as a writer. These new stories are her most assured, most daring and most wonderfully realized yet. I have followed Ms Barrett's fiction from Lucid Stars, her first novel, to Servants of the Map with growing admiration and wonder. She is a major talent and this is a lovely book.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliantly written collection of stories that seamlessly meshes fact with fiction, science with love and faith, and the pursuit of exploration and discovery with the satisfaction of the simpler life. There are so many interesting insights into the emotions of her created characters that we wonder if there is any parallel with the lives of real adventurers.
The opening title story of SERVANTS OF THE MAP starts us off well. The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India begun in the mid 19th century was a grand exercise of mapping the sub-continent. The map contours of interest were the peaks and valleys of the "still to be named" mountains of northern India. We meet Max Vignes, a draughtsman who when not sketching the details of what would later be the Himalayas, was looking down and passionately observing plants, leaves, and lichen. Max is obsessed with botany and the real mapping done by Barrett is of the contours of Max's heart. We see him torn between his love for his wife Clare and his two daughters and his all consuming scientific enthrallment with plants.
This is just the first story and yet Barrett's technique of interweaving the real and the imagined, and her theme of scientific enquiry juxtaposed against the demands of the human heart, are both already fully developed and flowering. She goes on to explore this some more with "Two Rivers" where academically inclined Samuel seeks to disprove all non-theological explanations for fossils. We are transported to the world of emerging Darwinism and Barrett uses Samuel to investigate the inner difficulty of reconciling oneself to change and adapting to a new world-view. It's an issue that has as much resonance today as it did in Samuel's world of 100 years ago.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on March 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I discovered Andrea Barrett when I read Voyage of the Narwhal, an epic story of courage, devotion, and the struggle with the northern latitudes that captured so many imaginations during the 19th century. I enjoyed that book tremendously. I wasn't disappointed in this collection of short stories.
Andrea Barrett has a great ability when it comes to developing characters. From Max Vigne, a hard working member of a mapping expedition in the area of Northern India in the title story, Servant of the Map" to his wife Clara that makes a major appearance in the final story "The Cure", all her characters are real. Almost real enough, it seems, to reach out and touch.
Each story stands on its own. But the way Ms Barrett weaves the stories together if fabulous. The final story, by the way, is connected to her book, Voyage of the Narwhal. Ned Kynd, an inn keeper in the "The Cure" played a major role in the novel.
I think readers appreciate these connections with past reads. It shows that the author respects the intelligence of the reader and isn't afraid to say that perhaps that story wasn't quite finished.
Finally, Barrett is a wonderful story teller. One can read along in any of these stories and almost take for granted what one is reading. Then all of a sudden a major twist in the story, or some new development with the character, or a connection with something you've read before.
Read this book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Aaron Bellamy on February 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sometimes there are different degrees of good. For Servants of the Map, five stars doesn't seem to do it justice. In fact, using any sort of rating system doesn't feel right. This collection of stories is as fresh and clean as the outdoor worlds it so amazingly describes. Often, I found my mind wandering off the page, and rather than stop myself and turn back to the book, I let my thoughts linger on. The book is nostalgic in this way. It reads quietly and naturally. I felt myself living in Andrea Barrett's vivid landscapes, and communicating with her eccentrically human characters. How rarley in a book do you find two characters, both very likeable, dislike each other? Yet, how often do we find this in real life?
In the second story, The Forest, as well as its companion, The Mysteries of Ubiquitin, opposing characters are quietly clashing almost all the time. Imagine two people, polar opposites, totally disgrunteled with each other, sitting comfortably on a patio near a swimming pool.
I can not recommend this book more emphatically. For those of you who are scared of short stories... stop, and read this book. In those blank spaces between the stories, a larger more wonderous world is created than in most novels I've recently read, including those busting over the 1000 page barrier. This one, you'll want to reread simply to give your imagination another Andrea Barret boost!
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