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"Modern" Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction

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Sep 29, 2011, 4:38pm Top

Dear All,

I joined the group only today and went poring through the forum for threads about historical fiction set in the current century. As an author who tends to focus on the period from the First World War through the Second and its immediate aftermath, I often feel marginalized within the historical fiction community, where works set in earlier centuries seem to predominate.

I was heartened, therefore, to find books like Night and Rain Falling on Cedars mentioned on some older threads. Is it time to begin fresh on this topic and share some newer or less-known titles? For example, I have not seen Ethan Canin's WWII novel, Carry Me Across the Water, mentioned. I am just beginning to read another novel from this era that came highly recommended, The Glass Room.

Have you others to recommend?

All best,

Sep 29, 2011, 5:01pm Top

Anything by Angela Thirkell

Sep 29, 2011, 6:39pm Top

I like the mystery series by Airth set after WWI.

Sep 30, 2011, 2:12am Top

Atonement by Ian McEwan Maybe? It's about a soldier, 2 sisters and a big life changing mistake set during WWII in England.
Me myself would love to read some books about the 20's, interesting time!

Sep 30, 2011, 5:01pm Top

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Captain Corelli's Mandolin which is set in Greece during the second World War.

Oct 1, 2011, 3:31am Top

Alan Furst writes excellent espionage novels set in Europe from 1937 to 1945.

Oct 1, 2011, 6:12am Top

The Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley are set in the middle of the 20th century in England. For novels set in the US, Loving Frank is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's affair with Mameh Cheney and takes place in the first 2 decades of the 20th century while Doctorow's wonderful Ragtime is set at the start of the century. Although technically children's books, there are some wonderful WWII books by modern authors such as Once, Then and 'Now' by Morris Gleitzman, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. More WWII books aimed at the adult market include The Reader, The Night Watch and anything by Nevil Shute while WWI is covered pretty comprehensively (though not to my taste) by Sebastian Faulks. Those are just the first ones off the top of my head.

Oct 1, 2011, 9:07am Top

OH you gotta read The Wandering Who

Oct 1, 2011, 9:09am Top

Jacqueline Winspear's excellent historical mysteries are set between the wars.

Oct 2, 2011, 1:28pm Top

Historical FICTION please, not non-fiction!

Oct 2, 2011, 2:00pm Top

#6> Philip Kerr, as well.

Oct 3, 2011, 6:59am Top

The OP said: I often feel marginalized within the historical fiction community, where works set in earlier centuries seem to predominate

Leaving aside the interesting question of whether there is really such a thing as an historical fiction community (do they all go around in ripped bodices?), I think there might be two reasons for this:

(i) labelling - If you're publishing Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, or someone, you're probably going to label the books "general fiction", even if they have historical settings, because general literary fiction has more chance of getting reviews and media attention than HF

(ii) added value - A modern writer of novels set (say) in the 1930s has to convince me, as a reader, that she can bring something new to the period that I can't get from reading novels written by someone who actually experienced that period - Angela Thirkell, John Steinbeck, Dorothy L. Sayers, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, ... - the competition from primary sources is pretty stiff at every level of the market. The way people thought then is close enough to the way we think now for us not to need an interpreter, most of the time: what the HF writer can add might be to highlight an area of life contemporaries weren't aware of, or didn't want to discuss, but there's a limit to how many of those there are.

Oct 10, 2011, 4:15am Top

Herman Wouk's WWII books The Winds of War and War and Remembrance I would recomend to you.The first book the winds of war is one of my favorite books war and remembrance I havent read yet I feel like I am saving it because I dont want the story to end I loved the first one that much lol they both have a special place on my book shelf.I hope you enjoy them if you havent read them yet.

Oct 12, 2011, 4:49am Top

Noho, a crime thriller set in 1930's London: http://www.librarything.com/work/11826110/book/78892171

Oct 12, 2011, 6:53am Top

About the period of ww ii (also pre- and post-) in (Central) Europe: the night soldiers series by Alan Furst:

Night Soldiers (1988)
Dark Star (1991)
The Polish Officer (1995)
The World at Night (1996)
Red Gold (1999)
Kingdom of Shadows (2000)
Blood of Victory (2003)
Dark Voyage (2004)
The Foreign Correspondent (2006)
The Spies of Warsaw (2008)
Spies of the Balkans (2010)

Oct 14, 2011, 4:27am Top

> 16

I want to read them all (read sofar only the first five and the last one). They are very atmospheric books, in my opinion even more so than Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series, in which I still have three novels to go. Alan Furst in his series also gives Central-/Eastern Europe its rightful place.

Winter in wartime and the The assault are very good novels about ww ii in Holland, the first one written for YA.

My ‘top’ ww ii novels are History by Elsa Morante and Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, the first one situated in Rome, the other one in Berlin. Great, great books by authors who lived in the midst of the wreckage of this war themselves.

Oct 14, 2011, 1:48pm Top

I concur with the recommendation of Alan Furst. As well as being entertained I found I learned so much from his books.

Oct 14, 2011, 2:21pm Top

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. Great book.

Oct 15, 2011, 6:32am Top

#19 jnwelch > I agree that Matterhorn is an outstanding book. I hadn't thought of it as "historical fiction" however, although that is perhaps the best category. Having read it, I was under the impression that the book was largely an account of the author's personal experiences in Viet Nam with the names changed. Perhaps not, but no one who was not there could have written such an account of a Marine platoon. And I guess, having served in 'Nam, I don't think of it, yet, as history, although I guess it is, isn't it? It is a raw, nasty look at the war as it was on the tip of the spear, a medley of language, chaos, horror, fear, frustrations and incompetence. It is also a book that, probably, couldn't have been written in its own time due to the need to maintain "political correctness" regarding senior officers and military leaders. It is an outstanding book that Marlantes tried to have published in the early 1970's and was turned down. He worked on it for the next 35 years, fighting PTSD himself during that time, and was finally awarded a publication. It should become a classic unless people are too thin-skinned to read it.

Oct 15, 2011, 9:33am Top

>20 mldavis2: mldavis2 You have much more insight than me, having served there, so I'm glad you think so highly of it. Like you, I think it's exceptional and it should become a classic.

As you probably know, he has a new one out, What It's Like to Go to War, which has been getting good reviews.

Oct 15, 2011, 11:00am Top

#21 jnwelch > I don't normally care for war novels. Most writers try to tell how it was, and there is really no way. It's not the details, the flash-images, the written descriptions, it's the environment and the weight of it all that simply cannot be transferred in text. I don't like to go back there ...

Having said that, I also just finished Ernie Pyle's War by James Tobin, a biography of the famous news correspondent in WWII that was also excellent. I would normally not read a book like that except that it was a chosen book for a local book discussion group. Pyle kept away from battlefield descriptions for the most part and talked about what he saw and the G.I.s he talked to, a "down-home" type of reporting that he used in his columns. Tobin uses a lot of quotations from Pyle and you can see that, although censorship was tight during WWII, the essence of war was perhaps more easily seen in its effect on Pyle than in the content of his writings. There were numerous quotations from personal correspondence with his editors that are very revealing of the tremendous effect it had on him.

Yes, I am waiting for What It's Like to Go to War to turn up in paperback or I may download it for the Kindle. That would be continuing to violate my avoidance of war novels, but Matterhorn was so good and so defining that I hope Marlantes can come up with a sequel of sorts that isn't just a piggy-back on the success of Matterhorn. I haven't bothered to look at reviews of it yet - far too many books in the hopper to get to it.

Oct 15, 2011, 6:56pm Top

I am reading Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess written in the early 80's it covers from WWI to the early 1970's for a writer and a priest.

Oct 18, 2011, 12:46pm Top

>22 mldavis2: mldavis2 Your reaction to war novels is understandable! The James Tobin book sounds interesting. Yes, it'll either be the library or paperback for me with the new Marlantes.

Oct 18, 2011, 5:10pm Top

#1: Were you talking about Night by Elie Wiesel? I thought that was an autobiography.

Oct 19, 2011, 10:12am Top

I just finished Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger. Set in the 1940's in a crumbling old manor house. Really interesting look at society in the post-war years, particularly how things had changed so quickly for the upper classes. Very good book and rather frightening at times (it may or may not be a supernatural book, like The Turn of the Scew it is ambigious about that), definatly one to read with Halloween coming up!

Oct 19, 2011, 12:46pm Top

If you'll include children/YA fiction, there's Rita Williams-Garcia's recent award-winning One Crazy Summer, which I personally prefer, as a coming-of-age story, even above To Kill a Mockingbird (which I find somewhat condescending racially). There's also Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (which is in one of my TBR mountains).

And for "biographical fiction" (in case you see that as different from "historical fiction"), there's Victoria Bond's Zora and Me. I do have some reservations about this one, though, as I've noted in an LT review, because I think it tends to "prettify" separate-but-equal.

I suspect you might in fact find a fair bit of African-American historical fiction for children/YA set in the twentieth century.

Oct 19, 2011, 4:40pm Top

Reading The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore, a fiction novel set in 1950's Russia.

Oct 20, 2011, 5:01am Top

Another recommendation I would give is A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book which is set in the very early 20th century through to the first world war. It is a wonderful, at times beautiful, at times chilling look at the artistic borgiouse lifestyle of the artists, craftspeople and writers of the period, centring around a female children's book writer and her family. Very good.

Oct 20, 2011, 10:28pm Top

I am another one who loves Alan Furst, he captures the Noir feel of late 1930's to early 1940's Europe perfectly.

I also read and loved Matterhorn, it was my top read of last year.

I would recommend both Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz and The Invisible Bridge as excellent novels set during World War II.

Oct 21, 2011, 7:53am Top

Just started The Scriber, a MG novel by Ben S. Dobson

Nov 2, 2011, 4:49pm Top

Here's a book set in America from 1941 to 1965, Next to Love by Ellen Feldman. It's an outstanding look at the lives of three women during and after WWII. Here's my review.

Edited: May 14, 2016, 1:26pm Top

This thread popped up on my groups list, but I see it's pretty old. Nevertheless I hope my recommendations may be of interest.

This is my favourite historical period to read about at present (I like all periods in history, but right now this is where my historical fiction preference lies).

Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road is a brilliant work of historical fiction set primarily during WWI.

Helen Humphrey's writes beautiful literary historical fiction set during WWII. My favourite is The Lost Garden, but Coventry and The Evening Chorus are also very good.

I'll echo the recommendation for Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, and add Charles Todd's Bess Crawford series to the list. Bess is a mystery-solving nurse during WWI, and the first book is titled Duty to the Dead.

For family sagas I recommend Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, which starts with Fall of Giants. I've only read the first book in that trilogy but I thought it was pretty good and definitely plan to continue with books two and three. I also recommend Judith Kinghorn's The Last Summer and Phillip Rock's The Passing Bells Trilogy.

P.S. Duffy's The Cartographer of No Man's Land, which is set during WWI in France and Nova Scotia, is excellent.

I also loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows, as well as Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole.

Other possibilities that may interest you are:

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan;
The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Cold-War Era);
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (not strictly speaking Historical Fiction, but is a great read);
The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller;
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Dec 19, 2016, 8:14am Top

Jan 11, 2017, 9:22am Top

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Rwandese Flowers by Adelson Costa

Group: Historical Fiction

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