History inspires writers in various ways. It could be a family story or an unusual fact about a historical figure or event that sparks the imagination and leads to works of extraordinary power and creative genius. Here are five compelling works of historical fiction.
“Medieval Lives” by Norman F. Cantor remains one of the most fascinating books on medieval people ever written. The author makes history accessible and entertaining. And while the book leans more toward the history side of historical fiction, it brings to life a group of extraordinary people who changed the world forever.
“Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett is the first book of the Century Trilogy. It begins in the years leading up to World War I and introduces a Welsh mining family, British aristocrats, an American diplomat, German and Austrian aristocrats, and Russian nobles and peasants all of whom are drawn into the massive conflict that engulfed Europe from 1914-1918. Heartbreaking tragedy and romance ensue. Be prepared to add the second and third books of the trilogy to your reading list.
“Regeneration” by Pat Barker is another novel set during World War I. The start of an award-winning trilogy, “Regeneration” tells the story of poet Siegfried Sassoon and his time at Craiglockhart War Hospital where he was treated for neurasthenia after he refused to continue fighting. We meet regular soldiers, fictional and non-fictional people, as they struggle with the psychological effects of the war in this riveting book.
“Skeletons at the Feast” by Chris Bohjalian This novel set against the backdrop of the last days of World War II is a riveting story of survival and romance. The book follows a German family fleeing their estate in Poland with their Scottish POW forced farm laborer who happens to have fallen in love with the eighteen year old daughter of the family. The family is heading west ahead of the advancing Soviet army. Also on the run is a young man, Uri Singer, a German Jew who jumped off a moving train headed for Auschwitz. Uri disguises himself as a German soldier in order to survive and try to find his sister. The characters meet and struggle against the cold and hunger, and the inhumanity of man, though somehow, amid the horrors of war, love manages to win in the end.
“The Vagrants” by Yiyun Li is set in a village in China during the 1970’s on the eve of the execution of a counterrevolutionary woman whose parents struggle to come to grips with their grief. The interconnectedness of the villagers’ lives is gradually revealed through moments of shocking cruelty as well as moments of poignant kindness. The author has created a nuanced portrait of life in this village trying to adhere to the strict rule of law imposed by the Communist regime and finding that the traditional way of life and the call of freedom both get in the way of what the government deems progress.