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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Top 10 Historical Novels
There are no signs on any horizon that the historical fiction renaissance, which began with the 1997 publication of Charles Frazier’s remarkable and popular Cold Mountain, may be coming to an end. In fact, these 10 titles, the best from the last year, prove that the renaissance continues unabated.
Baker, Kevin. Paradise Alley. HarperCollins, $26.95 (0-06-019582-7).
Baker mines a relatively untapped Civil War vein: the devastating 1863 riots in New York City caused by President Lincoln’s announcement of a draft. In this richly detailed, impeccably researched drama, the author’s success rests on his superb ability to bring contemporary understanding to consequential events of the past by creating fictional yet totally credible characters whose lives are deeply affected by these events.
Diliberto, Gioia. I Am Madame X. Scribner/Lisa Drew, $25 (0-7432-1153-3).
When biographer Diliberto began researching John Singer Sargent’s famous Portrait of Madame X, she discovered that little was known about the model beyond her name. Diliberto used what little information she could find as the basis for this lively and provocative first novel.
Erdrich, Louise. The Master Butchers Singing Club. HarperCollins, $25.95 (0-06-620977-3).
The indomitable Fidelis Waldvogel walks home from World War I and marries Eva, the pregnant widow of his best friend, who was killed in combat. Carrying a suitcase full of butcher knives, he immigrates to America and settles in North Dakota. It’s clear that Erdrich, one of our finest writers, is working at the very peak of her considerable powers here.
Faber, Michel. The Crimson Petal and the White. Harcourt, $26 (0-15-100692-X).
An unseen narrator bids the reader into a London that at first seems simply Dickensian. But Faber’s breathtaking novel is more intimate with its characters and less hopeful in its resolutions. The book’s premise is that men may rule the world, but women’s emotions move it by their gravitational force.
Hensher, Philip. The Mulberry Empire. Knopf, $26 (0-375-41488-6).
Recent events may quicken interest in this sweeping and utterly convincing novel of the first Afghan War, begun in 1839, when, to protect its empire in India from Russian influence, Britain invaded Afghanistan.
Jong, Erica. Sappho’s Leap. Norton, $24.95 (0-393-05762-3).
A highly imaginative, sexy, and shrewd interpretation of the life of the first known woman poet, Sappho, who lived on the island of Lesbos 2,600 years ago and wrote and performed poems of indelible candor and eroticism.
Mason, Daniel. The Piano Tuner. Knopf, $24 (0-375-41465-7).
In an ambitious, imaginative work set in 1886, first-novelist Mason sends piano tuner Edgar Drake deep into Burma. The British War Office, in an attempt to placate one of their key people, has requested the services of Drake in order to repair a rare Erard grand piano. Mason uses translucent prose rich with metaphor and allusion to call up Conrad’s signature theme of the voyage into the wilderness.
Pearl, Matthew. The Dante Club. Random, $24.95 (0-375-50529-6).
This gripping debut novel, set in Boston in 1865, begins with the discovery of the maggot-ridden, dead body of Judge Artemus Healey. Expertly weaving period detail, historical fact, complex character studies, and nail-biting suspense, Pearl has written a unique and utterly absorbing tale.
Ricci, Nino. Testament. Houghton, $25 (0-618-27353-0).
Ricci’s novel is a stunning re-creation of the life of Jesus. Ricci builds an absolutely beautiful, rigorously intelligent, fiercely thoughtful fictional biography that views the historical Jesus from the perspective of four individuals who knew him.
Shaara, Jeff. The Glorious Cause. Ballantine, $26.95 (0-345-42756-4).
In the sequel to his Rise to Rebellion (2001), which took place right before the Revolutionary War, Shaara brings the rebellion itself onto center stage. In focusing primarily on the lives of four vital (and historically real) figures involved in this world-altering event, the author demonstrates his literary talents as well as a keen understanding of the history of the time.
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