Add a Little History to That Fiction

Add a Little History to That Fiction

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova This part historical, part suspense thriller is set in Oxford, Budapest, Istanbul, Italy, and Paris, from the 1930s through the mid-1970s. She begins with history, and a barbaric medieval ruler, whose life and fascination with immortality becomes the legend for Dracula; and soon enough the protagonist discovers a strange, antique book, empty of words except for an odd embossed symbol at the beginning, along with some old letters tucked inside. When she presses her father for details, he refuses to give her any information, and simply returns the book to its shelf. She begins to research on her own, and to keep her life out of danger, her father reluctantly searches with her, taking her with him on various business trips. But this story began long ago, when her father was a young man, in college, when one night his esteemed professor disappears… One might wonder if a Dracula-like force was near when Kostova was writing and researching this book. Whatever her secret, it is 600 pages of sheer terrifying heaven.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr As two children grow up separately in France and Germany during WWII, their lives begin to collide. An epic story about people who become caught up in the cruel machinations of war, Doerr demonstrates with this novel how humans try to be kind to each other, despite the odds. The story’s true power is the precision of exquisite detail on the page and its ability to hold us captive from one chapter to the next. That, I believe, is why it is still continuing to sell steadily four years after it won the Pulitzer Prize. It is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles Historical fiction at its best, Towles has managed the impossible: he wrote a funny Russian novel. Set in Moscow over a 30-year period, Count Rostov offends the new Bolshevik government and is sentenced to house arrest at his posh hotel for life.The Metropol contains his entire world, and Bolsheviks, Stalin, and other bureaucrats cannot touch him here, because the Metropol is set outside of time, though time does pass and he with it. His friendscome to tell him of their beloved Russia falling apart, but that culture of despair that doesn’t seep through to the hotel. Readers will also learn useful historical information about Russia that would otherwise comefrom some dry, dusty text that will only serve to knock you out cold. No one wants that. Read Towles instead.

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott The grandchildren of a man who kills himself narrate this novel, and the repercussions of what he does echoes down through time, twisting its way into the lives of the people he leaves behind. McDermott has created a world that has been mostly gone for decades if not longer, yet she has brought it back whole and pristine. The author is a master storyteller as we follow the lives of two different families, from the Civil War through present day. The characters she has created are strong and beautiful, and the ending is unexpected and haunting.

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