Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Lost Voyage of John Cabot: A Novel

The Lost Voyage of John Cabot: A Novel

Henry Garfield
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2004   ISBN: 978-0689851735

John Cabot, or Giovanni Coboto, was a man who was always seeking something new, looking for fresh adventure on the great seas and oceans of the world. He was at his prime in a time when a great deal was happening in Europe, when great changes were taking place. One of his acquaintances from his youth in Genoa, a certain Cristoforo Colombo was determined to find a way to get to the Far East by traveling not west, as Marco Polo had done, but east, across the “Great Western Ocean.” Colombo (or Columbus as we call him today) did indeed find a land on the other side of the ocean and he was so sure that he had found China, the land of the Great Khan, that he called the native peoples he found there “Indians.”

John made his own journey across the Atlantic and ‘discovered’ a place which he called "New Found Land," or Newfoundland as we call it today. His experience made him rethink all his previous ideas. He was no longer sure that Columbus had in fact found Asia at all because the figures did not add up. Surely Asia should be much further away, the ocean much wider. He believed that there was an island or a series of islands perhaps which stood in the way and blocked the path to China and its splendors.

So, being the kind of man he was, John set off on another journey to try to find a passage around these islands or island which would allow him to get to the lands that lay beyond. With him went two of his three sons. There is the eldest, Ludovico, and the youngest, Sancio. The middle son, much to his great annoyance, is left behind in Bristol with his mother. Sebastian is furious at this ‘unfair’ decision of his father’s and yet at the same time he is not idle. Instead he finds himself work and does all he can to find out more about his father’s journey, and those made by other explorers. When his father does not return, Sebastian takes it upon himself to discover what happened to his father’s expedition.

We are given this story from two points of view: there are the letters written by Sancio which describe John Cabot’s second foray across the Atlantic, and there are the words, and thoughts of Sebastian, his memories and his story. In these latter chapters we also learn an enormous amount about the seafarers of the times and about life in Italy, Spain, and England in the mid 1400’s. It was an exciting time to be sure but it was also a frightening one, when people were ruthlessly persecuted for their beliefs and religion, and one where those with influence were the ones who dictated what people should or should not think.