Reviewed by Barbara Anderson, Head, Cataloging
We all know about the Lewis & Clark Expedition across our continent in the early 19th century, but how many of us have heard of the South American expedition led by French scientists Charles-Marie La Condamine, Pierre Bouguer and Louis Godin nearly 70 years earlier? It was the Age of Enlightenment and among the scientific societies in Europe there was a rivalry in progress concerning the size and shape of the Earth. La Condamine & company set out to resolve the dispute by measuring the length of a degree of meridian at the equator. The lengths they went to in this pursuit of knowledge, the physical hardships they endured and the additional contributions they made to the scientific and geographic knowledge of this part of the world are mind-boggling and make for fascinating reading.
Just as fascinating is the story of Isabel Godin, daughter of a Peruvian aristocrat, who fell in love and married Jean Godin, a member of the French expedition. After the work of the scientists had been concluded and the expedition had disbanded, Jean made the arduous trip from Ecuador to French Guiana, from which he hoped to arrange for himself and his new family to return to France. Political and bureaucratic tangles prevented this plan from being realized and entrapped Jean in French Guiana for nearly 20 years. Finally, Isabel (the mapmaker's wife) organized an expedition of her own to rejoin her husband. It was unheard of for a female to undertake such a journey through the rugged Andes Mountains and the rain forests of the Amazon, with very few outposts of civilization along the way. In fact, few men had survived this trek.
Author Robert Whitaker has crafted a well-researched historical account that reads like an adventure novel and lives up to its subtitle, "a true tale of love, murder and survival in the Amazon!"