The funny thing about history is that it keeps repeating itself. Which is ridiculous because we take note of history for the sole intention of improving our lives in the future and not to fall back into old ways… or am I completely off track in my understanding of the way the world works? The problem with learning long forgotten facts and events is that it can be a tad boring for those who are not really interested, which is where historical fiction comes into play. I wrote a post a few weeks ago where I shared why I read fiction, and there is one point in that post that really seems relevant here:
I’ve learned so much from fiction that I don’t think I would’ve experienced from non-fiction. This is because story telling has a powerful way of revealing truth and lessons that make the reader appreciate these deeper meanings so much more. As you read, you experience these lessons along with the characters you are following and because of this, the message of the story remains with you forever.
With that in mind, it became clear to me why I love historical fiction as much as I do, and why I feel it is a genre that has so very much to offer a hungry mind and heart. These are the 4 historical fiction books I feel every twenty something should read:
THE BOOK THIEF BY MARKUS ZUSAK: I am aware that I’m being rather predictable with this one, but it has to be said that it is a remarkable book that demands to be read from the very first page. It is a deeply emotional read that will surely put you into a reading slump, as I mentioned before, and more so it will find a special place in your heart with absolutely no intention of leaving. Everything from the story line, to the characters and the way in which the book is written (and narrated!!) is absolutely mesmerizing. Markus Zusak managed to capture the horrors of human rights violations, and at the very same time he allows light to shine through the darkness and restore faith in humanity. Like most historical fiction novels, it is a very intense and emotional read, so you shouldn’t expect to read it in under a few hours. This is a book that will take you some time to get through because it is really heavy on the heart and you will feel drained after reading a few chapters at a time. Still, The Book Thief is a fantastic book and therefore the popularity should not surprise you at all.
SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME BY LAWRENCE HILL: Out of the four books on this list, I think Someone Knows My Name is the most understated one in the historical fiction genre. I haven’t seen many people talk about it compared to the rest which is disconcerting considering that this book astounding. (Although, I have discovered mere moments ago that it’s been turned into a miniseries so maybe more people will turn to the book soon.) Someone Knows My Name is a book about one woman’s journey of surviving slavery, and her quest to return to her childhood home in Africa. We follow her life before, after and during her abduction, as well as the horrors she had to endure over the course of her hard life; which makes it one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. The way this book was written really spoke to me on a deep emotional level, and one could feel an immense pull to continue the story. I truly appreciated Lawrence Hill’s ability to fashion such a realistic female narrator – I was actually shocked when I discovered this book was written by a man because he portrayed the narrator sublimely. Much like The Book Thief, this book will completely ruin your heart.
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY BY RUTA SEPETYS: Everything I wanted to say about this book is written in my full review that I wrote up some time ago, after I finished reading it. But to sum it up: Between Shades of Gray was an extremely compelling read – one that I will be reading for years to come. The way Ruta Sepetys captures the unthinkable circumstances these people were forced to endure, chilled me to the bone. Yet, this story was so heart warming because you read about people who had this unwavering hope and faith in the world despite the life they were trying to survive – you are left feeling at peace. The fact that this book was based on a true story is just shocking; and gives even more reason to why you should read it.
THE NIGHTINGALE BY KRISTIN HANNAH: I know it seems like I only appreciate historical fiction books set during the period of WWII, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t true because I’ve always been rather interested in the events surrounding those horrendous times. But The Nightingale is featured on this list for a very specific reason: the women. The heroines in this book, Vianne and Isabelle, are two of the most dynamic female characters I’ve ever experienced. They were polar opposites in personality, and they had very different strengths and weaknesses that are vividly portrayed in this story. The way in which they were tested during the war, and how they changed because of their circumstances was what made both women such dimensional characters that I could not help but salute. Their distinctive, unwavering strength and determination is what makes them two of my favourite heroines (apart from Aminata in Someone Knows My Name). The Nightingale is an all consuming book that will tug your heartstrings every which way. The story keeps the reader in such suspense, jumping from the present to the past; and you have no real idea who is telling the story until it is revealed at the very end. When you put all of this together you get a brilliantly crafted novel that you don’t want to pass up reading.
Are you an avid reader of the historical fiction genre? I am always on the lookout for good recommendations, so drop me a comment below and let me know what books you hold close to the heart.