While I spend most of my reading time enjoying Christian fiction, here are some great historical fiction reads I couldn’t put down!
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Okay if you know me that was probably quite predictable but what can I say, she’s the Queen of Regency! While Pride is undoubtedly her most famous novel, if you’re unfamiliar with her other works you’re in for a real treat! Emmma, Persuasion and Sense & Sensibility round out her most popular titles but Mansfield Park is definitely worth you’re time as well.
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of Mary Dodd, Jim Fergus
The author writes that in 1873, Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf approached President Grant with a proposal to trade one thousand horses for one thousand white women of marrying age. Seeing the dismal future of his people, the chief hoped that the half-breed children produced by these unions would create a bridge between Indian and White culture and a chance for his people and their customs to survive. The story begins when the descendant of Mary Dodd discovers Mary’s diary and begins to unwrap the true story of the “crazy” ancestor who volunteerd for the “Brides for Indians” program to escape the horrors of the insane assylum where she has been committed by her wealthy father. The author does a brilliant job describing Cheyenne beliefs and the forced movement of the Cheyenne onto reservations.
The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom
This story set on an antebellum tobacco plantation in Virginia alternates between two perspectives: Lavinia the white indentured servant girl who becomes close to the slaves but doesn’t quite fit in because of her white skin and Belle, the mixed race illegitimate master’s daughter who runs the kitchen house. Eventually Lavinia marries the plantation owner’s brutish son and moves to the big house. When she violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family.
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Set in Mississippi during the civil rights movement, the story is narrated by the three principal characters–Minny and Aibileen, two black maids, “the help”, and Miss Skeeter, a young, white woman newly graduated from college. Despite the fact that the maids prepare the food, care for the children, clean every part of every home, and are privy to every secret therein, most of the white women look at their black maids as an alien race. Skeeter collects and writes their stories about mistreatment, abuse and heartbreaks of working in white families’ homes giving them a voice they cannot express on their own.
Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
This is a wonderfully engrossing story of Lily and Snow Flower who are matched as laotong, or “old sames” and follows their lifelong friendship under the rigid codes of conduct for women in nineteenth century rural China. Fascinating descriptions of foot binding and nu shu, the girl’s private language that enables them to share secret messages inscribed on a fan, that binds them together through arranged marriages, war, heartache and betrayal. Also recommended by this author is Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls.
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
This wonderful story follows the life of Jacob Jankowski while working for the Benzini Brothers circus in the 1930s as a veterinarian. According to the author’s note at the end of the book, many of the compelling anecdotes in the story were based upon real events found in the diaries and personal histories of old-time circus performers.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Death himself narrates this gripping World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger, a book thief, living with a foster family in Germany from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Liesel “collects” stolen books for her step father to read to lull her to sleep when she’s roused by regular nightmares about her younger brother’s death. Her love of books enables her to bond with a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max who her foster family hides in the basement, and the mayor’s reclusive wife who allows Liesel to steal from her exceedingly well-stocked library.
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
This wonderful story depicts matriarchs of the Old Testament, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel from the lesser known Dinah’s point of view. Impeccably researched, we learn a great deal about life for women in ancient times. The Red Tent offers a glimpse into birthing , slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Deeply moving, this story often had me reaching for the tissues and definitely sad when I reached the end.