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How to identify some good Historical Fiction

Post by: Kabita Sonowal

Not so long ago, Barbara Cartland wove history, fiction, and romance to set a stage of really popular romantic fiction. Although it carried a lot of mushy romance, to the keen reader or observer, it also shed light on the prevalent society and history. It set the ground for future writings on historical fiction. A largely noticeable chunk of Mills & Boon literature from the yesteryears also has settings of romance against an exotic milieu of historic locations and the past. A lot of people usually derive their interest in the Mayan, Aztec, and Middle-East civilizations from their first brush with a nondescript and unknown Mills & Boon novel created against a setting of Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Baghdad, or Casablanca. The list is always endless and truly so, as stories are born and woven from these places.




Moving to the current scenario, Ken Follett is the master of historic fiction. The Key to Rebecca, Eye of the Needle, The Man from St. Petersburg, Lie down with Lions, and The Hornet’s Nest are wonderful depictions of fiction assimilated in history. The Key to Rebecca is set at a time of Nazi rule and is based on the life of the German spy, Johannes Eppler and referred to as Alex Wolff in the novel and his final capture by the British. The Man from St. Petersburg is a reflection of the Tsar’s Russia, the First World War, and Britain’s need to win Russia’s support to win the war.




Follett’s Lie down with Lions reveals a war-torn Afghanistan from the arrival of the Russians and moves back and forth to the rise of the Mujahedeen, and the perils involved in trying to escape a politically-volatile country. The landscape, the history, and the plot highlight an instant understanding of what Afghanistan has been through. Similarly, Johannes Eppler’s character also inspired novels such as Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Len Deighton’s City of Gold.




Two other writers who have created marvelous works of historical fiction are Leon Uris and John Le Carre. Uris’ Exodus, The Angry Hills, and Mila 18 are paradigms of historical fiction. Exodus reflects on the history and times of 19th century Palestine to the creation of Israel. Mila 18 is a tale of Nazi-occupied Poland while The Angry Hills illustrates the German invasion of Greece and it is set in Athens and Piraeus.




Similarly, John Le Carre has contributed to some of the best spy fiction blended with historical-fiction works. The Little Drummer Girl and The Who came in from the Cold are a reflection on the Cold War, Communism, espionage, and political alliances. To conclude, these works are always informative, generate interest to read on, and are all-consuming.


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