Random Reads October 2021: Historical Fiction

Posted on October 3rd, 2021 by

Want to travel to another time and place without getting in a car or hopping on a plane? Historical fiction can immerse you in another world! For our first Random Reads blog and display, we’re highlighting some of the most entrancing Historical Fiction novels to be found in our literature collections.

The Master of Ballantrae (1889) by Robert Louis Stevenson

Cover of The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson
With an introduction by G.B. Stern
and with color lithographs by Lynd Ward.

Call Number: PR5484 .M2 1965
New York: Heritage Press, 1965.

From the publisher:

Set at the time of the Jacobite uprising, The Master of Ballantrae tells of a family divided. James Durie, Master of Ballantrae, abandons his ancestral home to support the Scottish rebellion—leaving his younger brother Henry, who is faithful to the English crown, to inherit the title of Lord Durrisdeer. But he is to return years later, embittered by battles and a savage life of piracy on the high seas, to demand his inheritance. Turning the people against the Lord, he begins a savage feud with his brother that will lead the pair from the Scottish Highlands to the American Wilderness. Satanic and seductive, the Master was regarded by Stevenson as “all I know of the devil”; his darkly manipulative schemes dominate this subtle and compelling tragedy.

“The whole thing is a triumph of imagination and literary art. But it is not pleasant reading. There is wit, but it is cold, cruel, even brutal; there is humor, but it is black, corrosive, bitter as gall. The story, which turns on the unnatural hatred of two brothers, would in the hands of a weaker writer simply shock and repel. Told as Mr. Stevenson tells it, it throws a sombre fascination over the reader from the first, and holds him enchained to the close.” -The Critic, v.16 (1890)

The Faithful River (1912; 1999) by Stefan Żeromski

Cover of The Faithful River by Adania Shibli

The Faithful River by Stefan Żeromski
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston.
Call Number: PG7158.Z4 W5514 1999
Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 1999.

From the publisher:

Originally published in 1912, this lyrical novel is set in a manor house in central Poland during the January Uprising of 1863 to 1864, when a volunteer Polish army futilely fought the Russian occupation. A wounded soldier appears outside the house and is cared for by Salomea, the young ward of the absent owners, who has been left in the manor with an aged servant. As the two strive to conceal the soldier’s presence during brutal and invasive visits by the Russians, Salomea finds herself falling in love with her patient.

“Their dramatic story is in itself enough to make the book a lasting pleasure. But Zeromski is also writing about a nation that hadn’t actually existed since the previous century, and it is the complexity of his vision–of a Polish spirit without a Poland–that makes the novel a classic of European literature.” —New Yorker

About the author: Stefan Żeromski (1864–⁠1925) was the leading Polish novelist of his generation and is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest writers his country has ever produced. Czesław Miłosz has called him “the conscience of Polish literature.”

The Vortex (1924; 2018) by José Eustasio Rivera

Cover of The Vortex by José Eustasio Rivera

The Vortex by José Eustasio Rivera
Translated and with an introduction
by John Charles Chasteen

Call Number: PQ8179.R54 V713 2018
Durham : Duke University Press, 2018.

From the publisher:

Published in 1924 and widely acknowledged as a major work of twentieth-century Latin American literature, José Eustasio Rivera’s The Vortex follows the harrowing adventures of the young poet Arturo Cova and his lover Alicia as they flee Bogotá and head into the wild and woolly backcountry of Colombia. After being separated from Alicia, Arturo leaves the high plains for the jungle, where he witnesses firsthand the horrid conditions of those forced or tricked into tapping rubber trees. A story populated by con men, rubber barons, and the unrelenting landscape, The Vortex is both a denunciation of the sensational human-rights abuses that took place during the Amazonian rubber boom and one of the most famous renderings of the natural environment in Latin American literary history.

“With John Charles Chasteen’s translation of The Vortex, José Eustasio Rivera’s seminal novel about the geographical vastness and mystical power of the Amazonian jungle and the heartless exploitation of its riches and its inhabitants should garner new fans in the English-speaking world.”— Jaime Manrique

“When in 1928 José Eustasio Rivera died in New York, he was intent on finding an American publisher to bring out his environmentalist novel The Vortex in English. Ironically, the environmentalist concerns he addressed are as timely as ever.” — Ilan Stavans

The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar (1927; 2021) by Yury Tynyanov

Cover of The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar by Yury Tynyanov

The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar by Yury Tynyanov
Translated from the Russian
by Anna Kurkina Rush and Christopher Rush

Call Number: PZ7.1.D15 F53 2020
New York : Columbia University Press, 2021

From the publisher:

The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar, a novel by Yury Tynyanov, one of the leading figures of the Russian formalist school, describes the final year in the life of Alexander Griboedov, the author of the comedy Woe from Wit. As ambassador to Persia, Griboedov was murdered in 1829 by a Tehrani mob during the sacking of the Russian embassy.

One of the central texts of Russian formalist literary production, the novel is a brilliant meditation on the nature of historical and poetic consciousness and of artistic creation. It is a complex and fascinating work that explores the relationships among individual memory, historical fact, and the literary imagination. The result is a hybrid text, containing elements of various genres—historical, biographical, existential, and adventure novels—and a deeply personal, almost confessional testament to the writer’s relationship to his generation and the state.

Completed in 1927, almost a century after the events it depicts, The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar marks the watershed between revolution and reaction. At a time when the Soviet regime was becoming increasingly restrictive of freedom of expression and conscience, Tynyanov grappled with the themes of disillusionment, betrayal, and unrealized potential. Unabashedly intellectual yet filled with intrigue and suspense, The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar is a great historical novel of Russian modernism.

Stalingrad (1952; 2019) by Vasily Grossman

Cover of Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman

Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman
Translated from the Russian
by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler

Call Number: PG3476.G7 Z2313 2019
New York: NYRB Classics, 2019

From the publisher:

In April 1942, Hitler and Mussolini meet in Salzburg where they agree on a renewed assault on the Soviet Union. Launched in the summer, the campaign soon picks up speed, as the routed Red Army is driven back to the industrial center of Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga. In the rubble of the bombed-out city, Soviet forces dig in for a last stand.

The story told in Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad unfolds across the length and breadth of Russia and Europe, and its characters include mothers and daughters, husbands and brothers, generals, nurses, political activists, steelworkers, and peasants, along with Hitler and other historical figures. At the heart of the novel is the Shaposhnikov family. Even as the Germans advance, the matriarch, Alexandra Vladimirovna, refuses to leave Stalingrad. Far from the front, her eldest daughter, Ludmila, is unhappily married to the Jewish physicist Viktor Shtrum. Viktor’s research may be of crucial military importance, but he is distracted by thoughts of his mother in the Ukraine, lost behind German lines.

In Stalingrad, published here for the first time in English translation, and in its celebrated sequel, Life and Fate, Grossman writes with extraordinary power and deep compassion about the disasters of war and the ruthlessness of totalitarianism, without, however, losing sight of the little things that are the daily currency of human existence or of humanity’s inextinguishable, saving attachment to nature and life. Grossman’s two-volume masterpiece can now be seen as one of the supreme accomplishments of twentieth-century literature, tender and fearless, intimate and epic.

Eleanor the Queen (1955) by Norah Lofts

Cover of Eleanor the Queen by Norah Lofts

Eleanor the Queen by Norah Lofts
Call Number: PR6023.O35 E44 1955
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955.

From the publisher:

Eleanor of Aquitaine rules as a modern heroine in the twelfth century, in this beloved classic of royal fiction from renowned author Norah Lofts.

At a time when a woman’s value was measured solely by her wealth and the number of sons she bore, Eleanor was the high-spirited, stubborn, and intelligent heiress to the vast duchy of Aquitaine.

Her leadership inspired the loyalty of her people, but she was continually doubted and silenced by the men who ruled beside her—the less wise but far more powerful men of the church and court who were unwilling to lose power to a woman, regardless of her rank or ability.

Through marriages to two kings, two Crusades, and the births of ten children— including the future King Richard the Lionhearted—Eleanor solidified her place in history. In Eleanor the Queen, Norah Lofts brings to life a brave and complex woman who was centuries ahead of her time.

About the author: Norah Lofts was one of the best known and best loved of all historical novelists, renowned for her authentic use of period detail. Born in 1904 in Norfolk, England, Lofts wrote more than fifty books of fiction, nonfiction, and short stories over the course of her half-century-long writing career, including The King’s Pleasure and Here Was a Man, and was a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Last of the Wine (1956) by Mary Renault

Cover of The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault

The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
Call Number: PR6035.E55 L3
New York : Pantheon, ©1956.

From the Virago Modern Classics edition:

Combining the scholarship of a historian with the imagination of a novelist, Mary Renault masterfully brings the ancient world to life in this page-turning drama of the Peloponnesian War.

Alexias, a young Athenian of good family, comes of age during the last phases of the Peloponnesian War. The adult world he enters is one in which the power and influence of his class have been undermined by the forces of war. Alexias finds himself drawn to the controversial teachings of Socrates, following him even though it at times endangers both his own life and his family’s place in society. Among the great teacher’s followers Alexias meets Lysis, and the two youths become inseparable – together they wrestle in the palaestra, journey to the Olympic Games, and fight in the wars against Sparta. As their relationship develops against the background of famine, siege and civil conflict, Mary Renault expertly conveys the intricacies of classical Greek culture.

“Mary Renault’s portraits of the ancient world are fierce, complex and eloquent, infused at every turn with her life-long passion for the Classics. Her characters live vividly both in their own time, and in ours.” – Madeline Miller

“Mary Renault is a shining light to both historical novelists and their readers. She does not pretend the past is like the present, or that the people of ancient Greece were just like us. She shows us their strangeness; discerning, sure-footed, challenging our values, piquing our curiosity, she leads us through an alien landscape that moves and delights us.” – Hilary Mantel

“All my sense of the ancient world – its values, its style, the scent of its wars and passions – comes from Mary Renault. Her Theseus novels are perhaps the most exciting of her Greek fictions, and The Last of the Wine the most moving.” – Emma Donoghue

Dance on the Volcano (1957; 2016) by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Cover of Dance on the Volcano by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Dance on the Volcano
by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Translated from the French
by Kaiama L. Glover

Call Number: PQ3949.C493 D213 2016
Brooklyn, NY : Archipelago Books, [2016]

From the publisher:

Set in late-18th century Haiti, Dance on the Volcano follows the extraordinary career of Minette, who uses her prodigious voice to cross racial barriers. Her talent brings her an opportunity to perform at the Theater of Port-au-Prince, an honor previously reserved only for whites. However, once the curtain falls she finds herself back to life as normal. Praised but unpaid, applauded but shut out, Minette develops a political and racial conscience that won’t rest as long as slavery still exists on the island. Her involvement soon leads her to butt heads with the man she loves, a freed black man as cruel to his slaves as many white landholders, and to cross paths with the future heroes of the revolution.

Born in Port-au-Prince in 1916, Marie Vieux-Chauvet is widely considered one of the greatest writers of the francophone Caribbean. Dance on the Volcano is the second of her works to be published in English.

“Trying to weave a fairy tale life from a horror story reality, Vieux-Chauvet’s heroine, Minette, rides her beauty and talent out of poverty in late-18th-century Port-au-Prince to fame onstage as a singer… [An] important book, best read as a slice of Haiti’s past rather than as a work of fiction.” — The New York Times Book Review

“In three movements as somber as they are striking, Marie Vieux-Chauvet explodes Hatian society in the time of dictator François Duvalier, in a classic style stripped of all exotic lyricism…. None of the dark forces that shook the country during this tragic period are forgotten in this novel-manifesto, from which no one comes out innocent.” — Le Monde

God Is an Englishman (1970) by R. F. Delderfield

Cover of God Is an Englishman by R. F. Delderfield

God Is an Englishman
by R. F. Delderfield

Call Number: PR6007.E36 G6
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970

From the publisher:

“The first novel in the epic God Is an Englishman series, this book is a stirring saga of England in the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution takes hold, forever changing the landscape of England and her people.

Adam Swann, scion of an army family, returns home in 1858 after service with Her Majesty’s army in the Crimea and India, determined to build his fortune in the dog-eat-dog world of Victorian commerce. Swann is soon captivated by Henrietta, the high-spirited daughter of a local mill owner. As Swann works to build his name, he and Henrietta share adventures, reversal, and fortune.”

“A book to get lost in… An epic historical novel artfully contructed.” – New York Times Book Review

“A delightful bounty of characters fairly jumps from the pages of God Is an Englishman.”
Columbus Dispatch

Segu (1984) by Maryse Condé

Cover of Segu by Maryse Condé

Segu by Maryse Condé
Translated from the French by Barbara Bray
Call Number: PQ3949.2.C65 S4413 1987
New York : Viking, 1987.

Winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature 2018

From publisher:

The bestselling epic novel of family, treachery, rivalry, religious fervour and the turbulent fate of a royal African dynasty

It is 1797 and the African kingdom of Segu, born of blood and violence, is at the height of its power. Yet Dousika Traore, the king’s most trusted advisor, feels nothing but dread. Change is coming. From the East, a new religion, Islam. From the West, the slave trade. These forces will tear his country, his village and the lives of his beloved sons apart, in Maryse Condé’s glittering epic.

“Rich and colorful and glorious. It sprawls over continents and centuries to find its way into the reader’s heart” – Maya Angelou

“Maryse Condé is an extraordinary storyteller who brings the history of an African kingdom alive as vividly as if it existed today. . . This is a great novel: unputdownable and unforgettable” – Bernardine Evaristo

News from the Empire (1987; 2009) by Fernando del Paso

Cover of News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso

News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso
Translated by Stella T. Clark
Call Number: PQ7298.26.A76 N6813 2009
Champaign [Ill.] : Dalkey Archive Press, 2009.

From the publisher:

One of the acknowledged masterpieces of Mexican literature, Fernando del Paso’s News from the Empire is a powerful and encyclopedic novel of the tragic lives of Maximilian and his wife, Carlota, the short-lived Emperor and Empress of Mexico. Simultaneously intimate and panoramic, the narrative flows from Carlota’s fevered memories of her husband’s ill-fated empire to the multiple and conflicting accounts of a broad cast of characters who bore witness to the events that first placed the hapless couple on their puppet thrones, and then as swiftly removed them. Stretching from the troubled final years of Maximilian’s life to the early days of the twentieth century, News from the Empire depicts a world of both political and narrative turbulence, and is as much a history of the advent of modernity as a eulogy for the corrupt royal houses of Europe. This startling and fevered work of “historiography” is a tour de force.

“A Mexican War and Peace.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Gleefully polyphonic … [a] variously fascinating, frustrating, hilarious, dull, mesmerizing, maddening, absurd and tragic novel, which, in its breadth and depth and massive reach, manages to achieve something of the noise and sweep of history itself.” – The Los Angeles Times

Beauty is a Wound (2002; 2015) by Eka Kurniawan

Cover of Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Beauty is a Wound
by Eka Kurniawan

Call Number: PL5089.K78 C3613 2015
New York : New Directions, 2015.

From the publisher:

The epic novel Beauty Is a Wound combines history, satire, family tragedy, legend, humor, and romance in a sweeping polyphony. The beautiful Indo prostitute Dewi Ayu and her four daughters are beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, insanity, monstrosity, and the often vengeful undead. Kurniawan’s gleefully grotesque hyperbole functions as a scathing critique of his young nation’s troubled past: the rapacious offhand greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; the 1965 mass murders of perhaps a million “Communists,” followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule.

Beauty Is a Wound astonishes from its opening line: One afternoon on a weekend in May, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years… . Drawing on local sources—folk tales and the all-night shadow puppet plays, with their bawdy wit and epic scope—and inspired by Melville and Gogol, Kurniawan’s distinctive voice brings something luscious yet astringent to contemporary literature.

“Brash, worldly and wickedly funny, Eka Kurniawan may be South-East Asia’s most ambitious writer in a generation.” — The Economist

The Birth of Venus (2003) by Sarah Dunant

Cover of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
Call Number: PR6054.U45756 B58 2004
Waterville, ME : Thorndike Press, 2004.

From the publisher:

Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities.

But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola’s reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra’s married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.

The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain’s most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city.

The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales (2005) by Shuhei Fujisawa

Cover of The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales by Shuhei Fujisawa

The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales
by Shuhei Fujisawa

Translated from the Japanese by Gavin Frew
Call Number: PL850.J5242 A2 2005
Tokyo ; New York : Kodansha International, 2005.

From the publisher:

The eight stories that comprise this collection were all written in the 1970s and 80s, yet vividly evoke early 17th-century Japan, when peace finally reigned after centuries of warfare. It was a period of upheaval and change as the rulers carved out their territories and clan politics were full of intrigue, rivalry and betrayals. The samurai were still valued for their swordsmanship, and were a cut above the peasants, artisans, and merchants in the social hierarchy. Without battles to fight, however, they struggled to retain their sense of pride and meaning in life as they devoted themselves to mundane jobs, marriage and family. The occasional flash of the sword and samurai discipline were tempered by the unexpected intrusion of human interaction. Sympathies, conspiracies, kindnesses, enmities-all kinds of odd relationships were formed and conflicts resolved in surprising ways. These tales are colorful, atmospheric, exciting, tender, violent and gently ironic.

The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales is published as part of the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP), which is run by the Japanese Literature Publishing and Promotion Center (J-Lit Center) on behalf of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan.

We, the Drowned (2006; 2010) by Carsten Jensen

Cover of We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Translated from Danish
by Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder

Call Number: PT8176.2.E44 V513 2010
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

From the publisher:

We, The Drowned is an epic novel about generations of men who go to sea and the women and children they leave behind. Filled with adventure, cannibals, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, tragedies, love, and survival, this book takes its place among the greatest seafaring literature.

We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, Denmark, whose inhabitants sailed the world from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War. The novel tells of ships wrecked and blown up in wars, of places of terror and violence that continue to lure each generation. The result is a brilliant seafaring novel, a gripping saga encompassing industrial growth, the years of expansion and exploration, the crucible of the first half of the twentieth century, and most of all, the sea.

Hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned, spanning four generations, two world wars, and a hundred years, is an epic tale of adventure, ruthlessness, and passion destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.

The Book of the Night Women (2009) by Marlon James

Cover of The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James

The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James
Call Number: PR9265.9.J358 B66 2010
New York : Riverhead Books, 2009.

Winner of the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize

From the publisher:

A true triumph of voice and storytelling, The Book of Night Women rings with both profound authenticity and a distinctly contemporary energy. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they- and she-will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings, desires, and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link. But the real revelation of the book-the secret to the stirring imagery and insistent prose-is Marlon James himself, a young writer at once breath­takingly daring and wholly in command of his craft.

“An undeniable success.” — The New York Times Book Review

Lionheart (2010; 2019) by Thorvald Steen

Cover of Lionheart by Thorvald Steen

Lionheart by Thorvald Steen
Translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson
Call Number: PL865.U28 J7813 2020
Publication Date: 2020-06-23

From the publisher:

Richard I (1157–99) was king of England from 1189 until his death, but he is best known as a soldier, not a monarch. He earned his moniker Richard the Lionheart as a knight and military leader, and his revolt against his father Henry II and his conquest of Cyprus as part of the Crusades helped to solidify his historical legend. In Lionheart, Norwegian author Thorvald Steen, celebrated for his historical novels, brings his characteristic accuracy and artistic vision to the life of Richard I.

Lionheart is the story of a man living in the shadow of his own myth, also a fanatic general who wants to conquer the world’s greatest sanctum and a king that is suddenly vulnerable. At the age of fifteen he leads an army against his father. Fourteen years later he is the Pope’s obvious choice to lead the Third Crusade. But the Richard of Steen’s novel is less sure of himself and his role—is it true that he is God’s chosen one, like his mother says? Built on extensive research, Steen paints a dark and conflicted, yet credible and convincing, portrait of a man who has engrossed historians, poets, novelists and readers for centuries.

“Thorvald Steen’s new novel Lionheart is a fascinating read. . . . Steen manages to give flesh and blood to a historical icon, and creates a story with energy, dressed in sober yet sublime language.”—Dagsavisen, on the Norwegian edition

The Good Lord Bird (2013) by James McBride

Cover of The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Call Number: PS3613.C28 G66 2013
New York : Riverhead Books, 2013.

Now a Showtime limited series starring Ethan Hawke and Daveed Diggs

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction

From the publisher:

From the bestselling author of Deacon King Kong (an Oprah Book Club pick) and The Color of Water comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1856–a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces–when legendary abolitionist John Brown arrives. When an argument between Brown and Henry’s master turns violent, Henry is forced to leave town–along with Brown, who believes Henry to be a girl and his good luck charm.

Over the ensuing months, Henry, whom Brown nicknames Little Onion, conceals his true identity to stay alive. Eventually Brown sweeps him into the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859–one of the great catalysts for the Civil War. An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord (2020) by Kim Leine

Cover of The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine
Call Number: PT8177.22.E47 P7613 2015
New York : Liveright Publishing, 2015.

From the publisher:

The award-winning, internationally best-selling saga of a Greenlandic community torn apart by the forces of colonialism and the one priest whose wavering guidance will determine its fate.

From the swarming streets of Copenhagen to the frozen villages of Greenland, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord is a grand, magisterial story of epic proportion. Earning rave reviews and scores of readers across the world, Kim Leine’s masterpiece—sweeping across the sea in a whaler and scurrying, panicked, from the Great Fire of 1795—arrives on American shores erupting with pathos, lust, faith lost and found, and a cast of characters clinging to life amidst persecution and calamity.

Idealistic, foolhardy Morten Falck, the hapless hero, is a newly ordained priest sailing to Greenland in 1787 to convert the Inuit to the Danish church. He’s rejected the prospect of a sleepy posting in a local parish and instead departs for the forsaken Sukkertoppen colony, where he will endeavor to convert the locals. A town battered by unremittingly harsh winters and simmering with the threat of dissent, it is a far cry from the parish he envisioned; natives from neighboring villages have unified to reject colonial rule and establish their own settlement atop Eternal Fjord. A bumbling and at times terrifically destructive mix of Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Arthur Dimmesdale, he’s woefully ill prepared to confront this new sect. Torn between his instinctive compassion for the rebel congregation perched atop Eternal Fjord and his duty to the church, Falck is forced to decide where he belongs. His exploits in this brutal backwater include an accidental explosion after a night curled around a keg, a botched surgery, a love affair with a solitary and fatalistic widow, and an apprenticeship with an eager young scholar that ends in tragedy.

Based on authentic events in the 1780s and ’90s, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord moves from the quiet rooms of the Copenhagen bourgeoisie to the stark, hardscrabble village of the Fjord where Falck finds himself—surprisingly—at home. Kim Leine’s textured, earthy prose evokes the sting of the cold, the itch of the wool, and the burn of the roughest swig of aquavit. In gritty detail, Leine reveals the corrosive effects of colonial rule—both on the colonized, bitterly ground down as they are, and on the colonizers, compromised and corrupted by their baseless power.

In rich, Dickensian descriptions, Leine charts the tragic events that intertwine seemingly disparate lives, illuminating the brutal and tender impulses of those seeking redemption and the shifting line between religion and mysticism. The Prophets of Eternal Fjord is a visceral panorama of a fragile colony caught in the throes of history, marking the American debut of a major international writer.

Shadowplay (2019) by Joseph O’Connor

Cover of Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor
Call Number: PR6065.C558 S53 2019
London : Harvill Secker, 2019.

From the publisher:

Shadowplay by New York Times best-selling author, Joseph O’Connor, is set during the golden age of West End theater in a London shaken by the crimes of Jack the Ripper.

Henry Irving is Victorian London’s most celebrated actor and theater impresario. He has introduced groundbreaking ideas to the theater, bringing to the stage performances that are spectacular, shocking, and always entertaining. When Irving decides to open his own London theater with the goal of making it the greatest playhouse on earth, he hires a young Dublin clerk harboring literary ambitions by the name of Bram Stoker to manage it. As Irving’s theater grows in reputation and financial solvency, he lures to his company of mummers the century’s most beloved actress, the dazzlingly talented leading lady Ellen Terry, who nightly casts a spell not only on her audiences but also on Stoker and Irving both.

Bram Stoker’s extraordinary experiences at the Lyceum Theatre, his early morning walks on the streets of a London terrorized by a serial killer, his long, tempestuous relationship with Irving, and the closeness he finds with Ellen Terry, inspire him to write DRACULA, the most iconic and best-selling supernatural tale ever published.

A magnificent portrait both of lamp-lit London and of lives and loves enacted on the stage, Shadowplay’s rich prose, incomparable storytelling, and vivid characters will linger in readers’ hearts and minds for many years.

“Funny, smart, tender, wise.”—Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon

“Joseph O’Connor’s magnificent novel does even more than fly, it soars.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

The Mermaid from Jeju (2020) by Sumi Hahn

Cover of The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

The Mermaid from Jeju
by Sumi Hahn

Call Number: PS3608.A45 M47 2020
New York, NY : Alcove Press, 2020.

From the publisher:

Inspired by true events on Korea’s Jeju Island, Sumi Hahn’s “entrancing [debut] novel, brimming with lyricism and magic” (Jennifer Rosner, The Yellow Bird Sings) explores what it means to truly love in the wake of devastation.

In the aftermath of World War II, Goh Junja is a girl just coming into her own. She is the latest successful deep sea diver in a family of strong haenyeo. Confident she is a woman now, Junja urges her mother to allow her to make the Goh family’s annual trip to Mt. Halla, where they trade abalone and other sea delicacies for pork. Junja, a sea village girl, has never been to the mountains, where it smells like mushrooms and earth. While there, she falls in love with a mountain boy Yang Suwol, who rescues her after a particularly harrowing journey. But when Junja returns one day later, it is just in time to see her mother take her last breath, beaten by the waves during a dive she was taking in Junja’s place.

Spiraling in grief, Junja sees her younger siblings sent to live with their estranged father. Everywhere she turns, Junja is haunted by the loss of her mother, from the meticulously tended herb garden that has now begun to sprout weeds, to the field where their bed sheets are beaten. She has only her grandmother and herself. But the world moves on without Junja.

The political climate is perilous. Still reeling from Japan’s forced withdrawal from the peninsula, Korea is forced to accommodate the rapid establishment of US troops. Junja’s canny grandmother, who lived through the Japanese invasion that led to Korea’s occupation understands the signs of danger all too well. When Suwol is arrested for working with and harboring communists, and the perils of post-WWII overtake her homelands, Junja must learn to navigate a tumultuous world unlike anything she’s ever known.


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