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3 Historical Fictions

3 Historical Fictions

Some mini (ish) reviews for you as I start spring term... here are some thoughts on three fantastic (and very different) historical fiction books (spanning geographies and centuries) that I've recently read:

1. Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín
The novel focuses on the tale of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to (surprise) Brooklyn. She finds love, but must return home to Ireland because of a death in the family. Once back in her homeland, she cannot decide whether or not she should return to Brooklyn. Basic premise, a little predictable, but wonderfully told (and beautifully adapted into a movie) (even if you're not going to watch the movie, listen to this cover of  "Casadh an Tsúgáin" by Iarla Ó Lionáird). Tóbín explains “I could not have written the novel – I would not have bothered – had the emotions surrounding exile and loss not been close to me at that time.” Exile, loss, longing.... these emotions color the novel so strongly I finished reading it wanting to find out everything there is to know about my great-grandparents' journeys through Ellis Island. While the narrative of Eilis, her story is so universal that there's a magic in reading it.
Era: 1950s Where: America & Ireland Rating: ★★★★

2. The Book of Night Women - Marlon James
I read this Marlon James novel after reading his man booker prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings (another wonderful work of historical fiction, read my thoughts about it here). It was a harrowing read; The Book of Night Women tells the tale of Lilith, born a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation. The Night Women are a clandestine slave sisterhood plaining a slave revolt, and Lilith is indoctrinated into their cohort. The story is told from Lilith's perspective, capturing her voice (think Beloved by Toni Morrison). The story starts: "People think blood red, but blood don't got colour. Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come, the lone baby of 1785. Not when the baby wash in crimson and squealing like it just depart heaven to come to hell, another place of red..." As the NYT book review deftly points out, "James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable-- even the unthinkable." It was really difficult to read at points; the brutal, dehumanizing violence of slavery characterized the story to such an extent that I had to pause reading at times. But ultimately, worthwhile read; because slavery is a part of the history of the Americas that cannot be sanitized or forgotten.
Era: late 1700s/early 1800s Where: Jamaica Rating: ★★★★

3. The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
The life of King David, the second king of the united kingdom of Israel, is told through the prophet Natan (Nathan)'s eyes in Brooks' deeply engrossing tale. I initially picked up the book from my library due to my faith in Brooks' narrative prowess (The People of the Book and Nine Parts of Desire) but I was a bit dubious, thinking that the only interesting part of the story was David & Golialth. And oh was I wrong!! Brooks tells NPR in an interview that one of the things that inspired her to write retell the story of David was "the well-drawn women in it." The women shine through in the narrative (here is my plug for Geraldine Brooks to write a sequel just focusing on Batsheba!!!). It morphs into a tale of power, love, faith, and family. The story of David does not really matter; while he does form the backbone from which Brooks writes, she focuses more on the peripheral characters of his narrative (his wives and sons and advisors) and imbues them with passions and politics and backstories. It doesn't matter if you're familiar with his biblical story or not - I promise that you will be sucked into the emotions of the tale.
Era: Biblical Where: Ancient Israel Rating: ★★★★★
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