Whether you’re an aficionado of a particular historical period or you’re always looking for new information on a new area of history, you’re going to find something to interest you in the new historical fiction coming out this month at the Field Library, from the French Revolution to the Soweto Uprising in South Africa, with authors you know and authors you’ll be meeting for the first time.
Allison Pataki needs no introduction to historical fiction buffs. Her last three books (Sisi, The Accidental Empress and The Traitor’s Wife) were New York Times bestsellers, and her newest novel, Where the Light Falls, will almost certainly join them on the list. This book takes characters from different walks of life in France during the later part of the French Revolution (a lawyer moving his family from Marseilles to Paris because that’s where he feels he can do the most good, a young man from an aristocratic family who wants to turn his back on his heritage and join the army instead, and a young woman who is seeking her own kind of independence) and through their struggles and sacrifices illuminates the chaos that turned the ideals of the Revolution into the blood and horror of Robespierre and Danton and the Reign of Terror. If you’re well-versed in the ins and outs of the French Revolution (so different in many ways from the American one that preceded it, but not unlike the Russian Revolution that followed it), you’ll want to read this gripping fictional account. And if you aren’t that sure about the details of the French Revolution, beyond knowing something about guillotines and storming the Bastille and Napoleon, this is a great place to get your feet wet and to spur you to do a little more reading into this most fascinating period of history.
Or, if you’re interested in something a bit more recent, though still in the realm of history, you could read Bianca Marais’ Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, a book set in the 1970’s in a South Africa still living under apartheid. Robin Conrad is a ten year old white girl in Johannesburg, unaware of how very privileged she is. Beauty Mbali is a Xhosa woman living in the Bantu homeland attached to South Africa (and treated by that country as a puppet state), a widow trying to raise her children in a rural village; she’s entirely aware that her life is shaped by her race and that there are few if any ways for her to escape her situation. The Soweto Uprising in 1976, led by black students and brutally repressed by the police, bring these two unlikely people together. Robin’s parents are killed, and Beauty’s daughter disappears in the aftermath of the uprising. Robin is sent to live with her irresponsible aunt, and Beauty comes to live with her as a caretaker, while Beauty is still looking for her lost daughter. Robin’s emotional connection with Beauty and her blindness to their respective positions in the society leads to tragedy, and Robin must find a way to make amends, as she learns more and more about the rules of the society that she took for granted. If you’ve read and enjoyed The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, you’ll see parallels in Hum If You Don’t Know the Words.