Six Historical Fiction Books I Loved This Year
01 Apeirogon: A Novel
This is beautiful, powerful, illuminating, and heart-wrenching. The first part felt a little slow, but I'm so very very glad I stuck with it.
Apeirogon is structured into 1,001 (this sounds overwhelming, but the book doesn't feel that way) short segments in varied points of view surrounding a Palestinian and an Israeli family on two especially fateful days in their lives.
The story builds to show how individuals on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and opposite sides of the wall) are at heart the same in their pain, their desires, and their love. It's 480 pages, and ultimately that felt like an appropriate length for settling into the points of view and experiences that are built over a lifetime.
The subject matter is weighty and emotional, and McCann manages to make the story both personal and political, which perfectly suits the subject matter. Really a wonderful book. I love McCann's thoughtful writing.
For my full review of this book, see Apeirogon.
02 The Light After the War
I’m dying to know how closely Anita Abriel’s book traces the inspiring events from her mother’s incredible experiences before, during, and after World War II.
The author offers a vivid account of the fear and dread—intermixed with sparks of hope—that sustained Vera and Edith in Hungary and Germany during the war; in Naples as they adjusted to post-war floods of food, fashion, and joy; as they found themselves in more settled situations; and during the evolutions of their careers and love lives.
Abriel introduces an enormous shift that shakes things up enormously for both young women before the book’s end.
Vera and Edith are such a complementary partnership, and I loved spending time with these strong young women. I was completely engrossed.
For my full review, see The Light After the War.
03 The Book of Longings
This was a fascinating story from the point of view of an imagined wife for Jesus, including an exploration of gender roles, a reimagined faith, the frustrations of societal expectations for women, great adventure, strong female loyalty and friendship, love, and lots of fantastic details of life at the time.
Much of the fever pitch of support and hatred for Jesus occurs when the main character of Ana is off having other experiences (and often-dangerous adventures). This is an intriguing structure for the story: Jesus as a supporting cast member.
Jesus's role in Ana's story is as a faithful man who disagrees with the politics of the faith at the time. He primarily serves as a character who cares for, understands, and supports the woman he loves.
For my full review of this book, see The Book of Longings.
04 Florence Adler Swims Forever
The Atlantic City setting just before WWII, with its giant hotels, piers, and general hubbub, is the backdrop for the story of a few summer months in the life of an extended family. There’s an undercurrent of concern about Hitler and his increasingly punitive behavior toward Jewish families’ businesses and emigration in Germany.
I loved watching the book’s events unfold—even if I could predict some of them. Anything that was wrapped up a little too neatly didn’t bother me at all; I was all in and satisfied.
Beanland based some of the basic events of her debut novel on her ancestors’ experiences. Fascinating.
For my full review of this book, please see Florence Adler Swims Forever.
05 Call Your Daughter Home
I worried during the first chapter that Gertrude was going to feel like a caricature of a backwoods Southern woman. But she and the other characters were developed fully. And although the three interconnected female characters faced sometimes staggeringly tragic challenges, Spera injects moments of joy—often related to their relationships to each other.
You can see where one of the storylines is going before the character involved understands it, and it might make your blood boil to see the evil situation go on unchecked.
But the details of cooking, strong women's determination to survive, race relations, and life in 1924 South Carolina were wonderful, and I still think about this book although I read it almost a year ago (technically, at the end of last year).
For my full review, see Call Your Daughter Home.
06 The Pull of the Stars
Set in Ireland in 1918, The Pull of the Stars follows a nurse, Julia; a doctor, Kathleen; and a young volunteer, Bridie, over the course of three tumultuous days as the fiery, complex, capable women work desperately to help the patients at their understaffed hospital who are about to give birth while suffering from the devastating new influenza.
Donoghue immersed me fully in the moment-by-moment health and emotional crises; the women's determined, sometimes desperately creative attempts to preserve lives; and their occasional triumphs.
The rest of the world fell away for me as I was reading, and I couldn't wait to get back to this book.
The author of the disturbing, fascinating story Room knows how to craft a tale of survival and of finding hope in the most dire situations.
For my full review, see The Pull of the Stars.
What's some of your favorite historical fiction?
I could make one meellion lists of my historical fiction loves (and I might). Any favorites I should add to my outrageously unmanageable to-read list?