History has always fascinated me. Looking at people and events from the past has always given me a guide for how I want to approach my future. My interest in history paired with my love of reading explains the stack of historical fiction novels resting on my bookshelf. When browsing a book store I’m usually determined to find something different, but I always end up kicking myself because I leave with a new historical fiction book tucked under my arm every time.
I have read many books of this genre and wanted to share my favorites with my fellow readers. The following list are the stories that have stuck in my mind far after I closed their back covers. These stories are very much still alive within me and I hope you will find life in them as well.
“In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are”
-Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
This story beautifully captures the gradual process of having ones dignity and freedom stripped during World War II. When people think of this war they immediately picture Jewish people heading towards the gas chambers in concentration camps. Although that is a primary part of World War II, it isn’t the only tragedy that took place. The Nightingale tells a story that many people either don’t know or often forget. It is the French citizens’ story after France was invaded and conquered. Kristin Hannah focuses her plot on two sisters from Carriveau, France who couldn’t be more different and their experiences during the war. While the eldest sister’ is waiting for her husband to return home from war, she focuses all her attention on her daughter Sophie’s survival. Whereas the younger sibling, who is overtly aware of the injustice taking place, is searching for ways to kindle a rebellion. This book is honest in it’s gradual portrayal of Germany’s take over of France. Little by little freedom is stripped away until there is almost nothing left, leaving these two sisters grappling for what is right and good during such a dark time. This story is for the common people who clung to their character, saved lives, protected the vulnerable and stood up for what was right in a time where nothing made sense and the world seemed to fall apart. For me, reading this book was a way to celebrate and honor the people who did good when all they saw was evil. You can read this book for free online if you use Audible’s 30-day trial here Enjoy!
“What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end…”
-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried
War is confusing, chaotic and tragic for everyone involved. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien captures this concept by chronicling his experience as a soldier in the Vietnam War. He opens his novel by describing what his fellow soldiers carry with them into combat. This list encompasses tangible items like brass knuckles, a hatchet and letters as well as abstract entities such as guilt, fear and the knowledge they may die. The things they carry are glimpses into who each person is, what they hold dear and what their life used to be before the war. The rest of this book is a compilation of little sporadic and scattered stories about these soldiers’ experiences that have no underlying thread tying them together. This novel doesn’t follow a typical structure. In fact, there is no structure or organization to this book at all. It isn’t in chronological order or organized into categories. Just when you think the individual stories are about to overlap and connect, they fall right back into their usual chaotic and illogical manner. The reader never knows what stories are true and which are made up-what is exaggerated and what is accurate. This might be the most confusing and frustrating book you will ever read and that, my friends, is the point. The frustration, confusion and chaos you will feel when reading this book, is the most accurate portrayal of what the soldiers experienced in the Vietnam War. This book doesn’t make any sense because to many people-especially those who sacrificed their life-this entire war didn’t make sense. The incoherency is the beauty of this story. I encourage you to read this novel for the sake of understanding what the soldiers went through and to honor their sacrific even though the cause was controversial. The Washington Times also has a lot to say on this book-read their review here If you want to order the book online you can find it here
“Forgiving isn’t something you do for someone else. It’s something you do for yourself.”
-Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller
The Storyteller is written by the popular author Jodi Picoult and is debuted as the No. 2 novel on the New York Times paperback list. It is a captivating story about Sage Singer, the charming baker who leads a relatively normal life other than her precarious work hours, in present-day New Hampshire. However, her normalcy is overturned when Joseph Weber, an elderly man and regular customer, asks her for a favor she will never be able to forget. This retired teacher and Little League coach asks for Sage to assist him with his suicide. Confused and horrified, Sage seeks to understand the reasoning behind Weber’s favor and he confesses to her his criminal past as an SS soldier for Nazi Germany. This confession takes her on a journey through the passages of time into one of the darkest parts of our world’s history. She searches for the truth through talking with historians, scouring documents, hearing Joseph Weber and her own Holocaust-surviving grandmother’s personal testimonies. The truth that is uncovered and the many plot twists and turns will keep you captivated and on the tip of your toes till the very last page. It has been two years since I have read this book, but the story is as fresh in my mind as the moment I finished it. It tells two stories. One of struggle, hope and the will to keep fighting. The other of regret, self-loathing and possibly, forgiveness. For any lovers of suspense, complex internal conflicts and dynamic characters, this story will be a gripping read. If you are interested in hearing what inspired Jodi Picoult to write this story read her interview here or order the Storyteller here
I hope you enjoy reading these books! If you’ve read any of these before comment why you loved or didn’t love them below.