‘The Mappist’ by Barry Lopez

The Mappist by Barry Lopez, 2000

The magic trick:

Creating narrative out of a fictional work of nonfiction

Our narrator travels to North Dakota in this story, and that’s where we’ll be staying all week.

There is more than a little Borges about this one, particularly the way it creates narrative out of a fictional work of nonfiction. The work in question is something called The City Of Ascensions, a study of Bogotá that seems to capture the city’s very essence through cartography.

It’s a beautiful and intriguing way to build a metaphor.

And that’s quite a trick on Lopez’s part.

The selection:

When I was an undergraduate at Brown I came across a book called The City of Ascensions, about Bogotá. I knew nothing of Bogotá, but I felt the author had captured its essence. My view was that Onesimo Peña had not written a travel book but a work about the soul of Bogotá. Even if I were to read it later in life, I thought, I would not be able to get all Peña meant in a single reading. I looked him up at the library but he had apparently written no other books, at least not any in English.


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