[Earlier this month, I began teaching my graduate American Historical Fiction: Practice and Theory class for the fifth time, this time entirely online. So this week I’ve briefly highlighted (busy with teaching and all) a handful of exemplary historical fictions and related contexts. Leading up to this crowd-sourced post featuring the responses and nominations of fellow HistoricalFictionStudiers—add yours in comments, please!]
Following up Tuesday’s Kindred post, Kaitlynn Chase writes, “The graphic novel of Kindred by Damien Duffy and John Jennings is also stunning, an extremely powerful take on Octavia Butler’s phenomenal work!” She adds, “Also, Pauline Hopkins.”
Following up Thursday’s Hawaii post, Donna Moody shares, “It was one of my favorite Michener novels...really illuminated the hypocrisy of the colonizers.”
In response to the same post, Rick Kosan writes, “I’ve read Hawaii, Alaska and Space. Bought Iberia a long time ago but still haven’t tackled it. ‘Deeply researched’ may be the king of Twitter understatements. In Space, for an example, IIRC, Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach, FL, isn’t even mentioned until well over 500 pages in.” He also highlights the works of Leon Uris, “especially Mila 18, Trinity, and QB VII. Exodus is his most famous book and is also worthy of study.”
Responding to Friday’s post, Glenna Matthews tweets, “Alias Grace is a fave. Stunning imagination at work in conjuring up the humiliations of being a servant in that time and place.”
Other historical fiction nominees:
Carol DeGrasse nominates "Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Hands down. But also The Nickel Boys. So hard to choose just one."
Joe Fruscione seconds those, and adds Melville’s Benito Cereno.
Hannah Murray agrees on Whitehead, and adds Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance.
Kent Rose concurs on Whitehead, and adds Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad.
Lara Schwartz agrees that “Underground Railroad is heart-stoppingly beautiful,” and also writes, “Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel are gripping and exciting.”
Summer Lopez responds, “I think I said Wolf Hall last year! Would also flag A Place of Greater Safety, her French Revolution book, which is *maybe* even better.”
Kate Kostelnik agrees on Underground Railroad, and adds, “George Saunders’ most recent novel about Lincoln is historical/fantastical (made that category up myself, I think).”
Lisa Moison nominates Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth.
Michele Townes goes with Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and the sequel War and Remembrance. She adds, “Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza (‘reading’ it on Audible with narration is amazing with all the dialects).”
Jenny Fielding shares, “Alison Weir. She is a prolific historical biographer and so her historical fiction is full of spot on details. Amor Towles has an impeccable eye for the feel of a period. The Name of the Rose by Eco. Isabel Allende. Colson Whitehead. Possession by A.S. Byatt.”
AnneMarie Donahue nominates, “For Whom the Bell Tolls (I know that makes me sooooo pretentious, but Hemingway man!), White Queen (all that Phillipa Gregory shit really), World War Z (I know it doesn't count I don't care), Dread Nation (again probably doesn't count don't care was nice to read a book where almost all the characters were POC), oh and most of the history books I read in junior high and high school, very creative revision of brutality.” She adds Raymond A. Villareal’s A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising.
Shiladitya Sen writes, “Going back a bit, but I've always been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's historical fiction (which he preferred to his Sherlock Holmes stories), both the short stories (stand-alone ones, such as the ones in the Tales of Long Ago collection, as well as the Brigadier Gerard series) and the novels (The White Company and its prequel Sir Nigel are my two favorites).”
Justin Mason goes with “The Killer Angels for sure. I would actually like to read The Devil in the White City and Killers of the Flower Moon as well at some point.”
Lydia Currie writes, “I dare you to recommend Outlander to your blog audience.” [BEN: Dare accepted!]
Paige Wallace agrees, “Outlander forever and always.” She adds, “A Transcontinental Affair by Jodi Daynard was lovely.”
Sarah Chinn tweets, “The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman is amazing.”
Sarah West nominates, “Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Amazing scope and fantastic writing.” She adds, “Also, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Fantastical and amazing.”
Catherine Wiley seconds the Tale for the Time Being love, and adds, “Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of my favorite books of all time. One of those follow-a-family-through-generations type things, but brilliant. And very vivid re the lived experience of two world wars.”
Amy Johnson highlights The Lost Girls of Paris.
Gabrielle Crowley nominates The Nightingale.
Tim McCaffrey writes, “Just finished the Aubrey-Maturin series—very good if you like light reading about early 19th century English navy stuff.”
Derek Tang highlights Tom Clancy, especially his early works.
Veronica Hendrick shares, “Sally Gunning’s Bound is good. I haven’t read her other works, but a friend loves them all.”
Andrew DaSilva nominates, “Two Brothers by Ben Elton, 11/22/63 by Stephen King and The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien though I am unsure if the last one counts it's very loosely a historical fiction...” [BEN: It all counts!]
Olivia Lucier writes, “When I was a kid I loved those Dear America books. Diaries about girls throughout history. Recently boys and then more historical figures. Loved them because I was exposed to historical events that I didn’t know much about: a girl living in a Tory family during the Revolution, Native American tribes, an Irish mill girl, an escaped slave, etc. enjoyed reading them again and again!”
Christina Proenza-Coles highlights The Known World by Edward P. Jones.
Betsy Cazden writes, “The novel that more than any other got me interested in history (and Quakers) was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It's historically accurate and superb writing.”
Matthew Teutsch goes with Frank Yerby (for more on whom see his new collection), especially “The Foxes of Harrow, The Vixens, and Benton's Row for American, and “The Saracen Blade (13th century Italy) and Goat Song (ancient Sparta and Athens) for wide historical.” He adds, “The Dahomean is important, and its follow up A Darkness at Ingraham's Crest, because the first is set in Africa and the second in Antebellum South, and they trace the same character.”
Gabriella Friedman nominates “Toni Morrison's A Mercy (really any Morrison novel, but A Mercy is an under-rated one that is a really interesting take on colonial New England).” She adds, “Blake Hausman's Riding the Trail of Tears (set in the present but features a VR ride where tourists experience the Trail of Tears),” and “some others: Gerald Vizenor's "Custer on the Slipstream," Stephen Graham Jones's Ledfeather, Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.”
Bruce Simon writes, “Morrison's Beloved for the way it links middle passage, slavery, Reconstruction, and post-Reconstruction lives and deaths! I wrote on Gayl Jones's Corregidora a few decades back in Race Consciousness (ed. Fossett + Tucker). Submitted an early draft to Morrison when applying to be a teaching assistant for her Studies in American Africanism course, not knowing she edited Jones's manuscript. Got the job. In a totally different direction, Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt is both an alternate history novel and a meditation on the writing of history. For totally made up worlds that also feature meditations on history and the writing of it, you can't beat Steven Brust and N.K. Jemisin. Spread out over series, but Dragaera (esp. Khaavren romances) and Broken Earth are amazing experiments in both worldbuilding and literary form.”
Shirley Samuels, who wrote about 19th century historical fiction in her wonderful Romances of the Republic, highlights James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy. She adds, “It’s easy to forget that Last of the Mohicans is historical fiction...”
Donna Campbell nominates “Gore Vidal, Burr. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence & Old New York. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage.”
Kate Wells writes, “I like pretty much all of Edward Rutherfurd's novels. Also, The Alienist by Caleb Carr; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco; Beloved by Toni Morrison; The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich.
Summer Lopez asks, “Has anyone said Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan? She's the president of my org, so I'm biased (because she's also a lovely human), but it's such a meticulously researched, evocatively detailed, gorgeously written book.”
And Ezekiel Healy writes, “Ever heard of Tipping the Velvet (1998) by Sarah Waters? It’s a lesbian, coming of age, romance, and more novel, set mostly in London around the turn of the century. Recommended!”
Now that’s what the crowd-sourced posts are all about—a book I’ve never heard of and can’t wait to read, shared by a childhood friend who is part of my (clearly) amazing circle of online connections! Next series starts Monday,
PS. Other historical fictions or authors you’d highlight?
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