I used to think I loved historical fiction, but one quirk of book blogging has been the gradual teasing out of my very specific reading preferences. I don’t love most historical fiction—or whatever we try to nail down as historical fiction—at least not in its most straightforward form. But I do love novels that take a historical setting or story and fuss it up by making things weird with speculation or style. These are just a few of my favorite books that fall into this odd little category.
As the horrors of World War II inch closer to a small Jewish village in Romania, the villagers decide to reinvent their world and halt the movement of history. Ramona Ausubel’s writing is just stellar in this World War II novel that is magical and gutwrenching and completely unlike anything else you’ve read.
In many ways, Life After Life hugs close to more traditional historical fiction story lines in following the life of Ursula Todd from her birth in 1910. But the story takes a twist as Ursula dies—and is reborn—numerous times over the course of the novel, charting dozens of wildly different courses through the 20th Century.
From birth, Rabbit is able to speak with the dead. Through the stories of her ancestors, Rabbit must learn to come to terms with Vietnam’s past, her ability to see it, and her place in its future. She Weeps Each Time You’re Born is exactly what I love about books like this—fascinating history with a unique, magical element to pull you in.
You could just categorize The Sisters Brothers as a Western, but that would be doing it a pretty huge disservice. Patrick deWitt’s novel is bold, bloody, and funny in the best ways possible.
Well, half of this is historical. It’s also a novel inside another novel, which is set in the future. But the parallels between Zadock Thomas, crossing the country to deliver a letter and win the hand of his love in 1843, and Zeke Thomas living three hundred years later merge together in a fascinating tale.
A nineteenth century British astronomer attempts to contact Mars by excavating a giant triangle in the desert and setting it on fire. As crazy as it sounds, Ken Kalfus makes the story of Sanford Thayer sound insanely real and eerily historically accurate.
The story of the Manhattan Project and the community of Los Alamos has been told from many different angles, but The Wives of Los Alamos tells the tale in the unique, collective voice of “we”.
Spanning close to two hundred years of life on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, including a glimpse at the future, The Shore is a novel of heavily linked stories that examines lives in an incredible and immersive experience of a book.
Can you recommend some historical fiction with a twist?