Sometimes a sentimental historical novel fits the bill perfectly. The time period is 1944-46. Kate survives a London bomb but then circumstances force her to live with a doctor friend, Claire. Complex issues complicate their lives: a murdered father and the return of Claire’s troubled husband from the war. This story is about friendship, promises, courage and independence. Key details are left unexplained, to make for a very satisfying plot.
Circus of Wonders – Elizabeth Macneal
In Victorian England, the circus featured “human curiosities”, aka the freak show. The “performers” are exploited and objectified but also experience fame as someone no longer relegated to the shadows. There is also an interesting back-story of the Crimean War. A richly detailed historical novel, an enthralling slice of Victoriana.
Em – Kim Thuy
Ms. Thuy writes impeccable books that are short, like her titles (Ru, Vi), and yet packed with insightful content. This new book begins in Viet Nam in the 1970s, with the My Lai massacre and the fall of Saigon. Both the horrors of war and the resilience of survivors are highlighted: overall, this is a powerful book.
So Much Life Left Over – Louis De Bernieres
Daniel Pitt is a WWI flying ace who struggles to fid purpose after surviving the war – what to do with life inexplicably left over. His story from 1925-45 includes Ceylon, England, France and Germany. His marriage to Rosie slowly disintegrates, and Rosie acquires a remarkably mean-spirited persona. And there are Rosie’s three sisters, each strong individual characters. The story evolves in short chapters with different points-of-view. Overall, a compelling story of complex relationships in post-war and pre-war contexts.
Amy adds: Louis De Bernieres also wrote The Dust that Falls from Dreams, and the excellent Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
A Single Thread – Tracy Chevalier
Ms. Chevalier writes superb historical fiction featuring strong female characters (e.g., Remarkable Creatures). In her new book, it is 1932 and 38-year-old Violet is one of the “surplus women” left unmarried or widowed by World War I. She finds purpose by moving to Winchester to learn needle point to create kneelers for the cathedral. And there is impeccable information on bell ringing. Sometimes a sentimental story is just what is needed.
A Large Petal of the Sea – Isabel Allende
Allende’s latest historical fiction novel follows two young Spanish people as they flee the Spanish Civil War in 1938. Roser is a pregnant widow; Victor is the brother of her deceased lover. Their flight to the French border is harrowing. Eventually they are chosen by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to immigrate to Chile but must be married to qualify for the journey. Thus, a long caring relationship is initiated in a new country. A replay of the Spanish Civil War conflict is encountered by the military overthrow of the Allende government in 1973, another battle between freedom and repression. After a 12-year exile in Venezuela, Roser and Victor return to Chile which is their true home. This is an epic story told with Allende’s typical lucidity.
Metropolis – Philip Kerr
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
Akin – Emma Donoghue
An odd couple makes a trip to Nice France. Noah is a 79-year-old recently-widowed childless retired University professor; Michael is his 11-year-old great-nephew who Noah has never met. Their wildly disparate backgrounds create both considerable conflict and humour as they investigate a series of World War II photographs from Noah’s mother. This is a wondrously written story of love, loss and family.