Recommended Historical Fiction Books
Updated Nov. 28, 2009 12:01 a.m. ET
1 The Rings of Saturn
By W.G. Sebald
New Directions, 1998
In "Rings of Saturn, " the *German author W.G. Sebald weaves fact and fiction into a book that is part memoir, part travel narrative, part meditative essay and part history. The story twists and turns and shuttles back and forth through time and along England's desolate East Anglian coastline. As the unnamed narrator makes his way south on a walking tour through sand dunes and villages, he describes the relentless erosion of the coast, and as he does, stories wash up—like the workings of memory—wherever he goes. A postcard here, a newspaper cutting elsewhere, the remains of a mulberry tree, a photograph—these lost objects lead him to discussions of Chateaubriand, Swinburne and Conrad, mackerel fishing fleets, skulls and silkworms. For Sebald, history and memory is like a storeroom in a derelict mansion—full of dusty, nearly forgotten things, each of which, in the author's hands, yields its own haunting tale.
By Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, Brace, 1928
Virginia Woolf described this fantastical biography as her holiday from serious fiction and based it on the life story and family history of her friend Vita Sackville-West. Orlando, born a nobleman in the 16th century, lives and writes through four centuries while aging little at all, changing from a man to a woman, ending up as a female writer in the early 20th century, encountering scores of historical and literary figures along the way. People are "a rag-bag of odds and ends, " Woolf writes, "lightly stitched together by a single thread. Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that." Following her cross-dressing, sex-changing protagonist through time, Woolf challenges what we take for granted about history, time and identity. Along the way, she pays homage to 18th-century novels like Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders" and Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" in a tale that is funny, fast and iconoclastic.
By Salman Rushdie
Often overshadowed by "Midnight's Children" and "The Satanic Verses, " Salman Rushdie's "Shame" is a virtuoso piece of history writing, a magical-realist, alternative portrait of Pakistan. Rushdie isn't interested in verisimilitude; he is concerned with the violent effects of sexual and familial shame in Pakistan and the ways in which they play out over time. The novel is both beautiful and inventive in its audacious mix of political satire and fairy tale. It opens with the birth of Omar Khayyam Shakil to "the three mothers, " hermetic sisters who have become indistinguishable in their closeness and who vow never to reveal who actually bore him. They resolve to raise the fatherless boy with no sense of shame. Omar's story gradually shades into those of Iskander Harappa and Raza Hyder, characters based on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's prime minister in the 1970s, and Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who assumed power after a 1977 coup and ordered Bhutto's execution. As the family stories intertwine, shame erupts with increasing violence until it threatens to engulf everything.
You might also like:
Can someone recommend a new series?2008-04-17 12:33:04 by a_n_allen
I'm on the eleventh novel of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series... and I'm trying to prolong the reading as long as I can because I know the next book will more than likely not be released, or not be very good.
I don't have any desire to read Conan, his other series, but I love the way he writes. He immersses the writer in a world they can SEE, with characters that are easy to relate to because their depth is so clear. I love his detail and discriptions and diversity of character.
So I'm wondering... what do you recommend? What series have you read blows your mind?
Someone recommended "Dark Tower", but I have no desire to read anything where the main character's name is "Gunslinger" or whatever
Kind of a weird one..2008-08-19 20:31:47 by mamamurphy
But I REALLY loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (I hope I spelled her name right). Definitely not a book I would typically read, but a friend recommended it, and I could not put it down. It's about a woman who goes in search of Vlad the Impaler (i.e., Dracula). It isn't a traditional vampire book or anything, in fact, it's more of a historical account of the Dracula legend, and I thought it was really fascinating. Definitely not one of those easy-to-read novellas. I read it last year, and still consider it one of the top 20 books I've read.
Of course, I also love all of the Phillipa Gregory books, but I'm kind of a sucker for historical fiction...