The kind of historical fiction I particularly enjoy is the type where the author takes something famous, something most people know about in a vague sense, and, by looking at it from a different perspective, brings it to new life. Whether it’s The Wizard of Oz movie being made, or the home front in England during World War I, two new historical novels here at The Field Library bring us those kinds of new insights.
L. Frank Baum is well known, and deservedly so, for having written The Wizard of Oz, though probably more people these days are familiar with the 1939 movie made from the book. Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts, brings us to the period when the movie was being made, seeing the events through the eyes of Maud Baum, the widow of L. Frank Baum. Coming to Hollywood to try to make sure the movie remains true to the spirit of her husband’s book, Maud remembers her past with Frank, her days as a Suffragist, and her attempt to save the girl who was the model for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Seeing Judy Garland rehearsing for the role of Dorothy, Maud feels the need to try to protect her, from the studio, from her stage mother, from the pressures all around her, and maybe save her as she couldn’t save the real Dorothy. Finding Dorothy is a rich look at the lives behind the famous story, and a portrait of a real woman’s fierce struggle against the constraints of her time and her role.
Rhys Bowen, author of the new book, The Victory Garden, is no stranger to historical fiction, between her Molly Murphy mystery series, set in New York around the turn of the century and her previous books set during World War II (In Farleigh Field and The Tuscan Child), she clearly has a talent for bringing the past to life. The Victory Garden is set in England during World War I (the Great War, as they called it then), with the character of Emily Bryce eager to do her part to help her country in time of war, despite her parents’ strenuous opposition. She falls in love with an Australian pilot at a local hospital, and when he’s sent back to the front, she finds work as a Land Girl, tending a large Devonshire estate. She discovers she’s pregnant, she’s not married, and her lover has died a hero’s death in the war, a devastating combination of blows. Pretending to be a war widow, Emily grows up quickly, inspired by her work and the community of people, mostly women, surrounding her. For those of us who are fans of Rhys Bowen, picking up this book is a no-brainer. For historical fiction fans who haven’t yet encountered her, this is an excellent place to make her acquaintance.