[Guest Post]: Rarely Portrayed Historical Events + Book Recs

October 26, 2017 books, recs 6

My friend Bianca is back with another interesting topic today: rarely portrayed events in historical fiction! Isn’t it interesting how some historical events always seem to be so much more spotlighted than others? I remember I was shocked when I watched America, America by Elia Kazan for university and learned about an entire genocide we never talked about in school. Or when I found out that The Republic of Texas was briefly an independent country in the 19th century – literally had never heard about that before. Bianca will tell you about two historical novels and the events portrayed in them in her post.

Bianca’s Post

The depths of despair – Rarely portrayed historical events

Lately, I have started to get into historical fiction again, especially historical fiction set in the beginning and middle of the 20th century. While reading I noticed that some historical events are portrayed very rarely in modern day literature. I really enjoyed reading two books about historical events I haven’t read about before and didn’t know a lot about. So if you’re in for some history paired with a bit of drama and romance (oh and a lot of death), here is what I have for you:

1. A Death Struck Year (2014) by Makiia Lucier

The Spanish Influenza

The main character of A Death Struck Year is seventeen-year-old Cleo Berry. After the Spanish Influenza breaks out in her hometown of Portland, she escapes her quarantined boarding school and joins the Red Cross as a volunteer. Throughout the novel, Cleo has to come to terms with people dying all around her and being in danger of immediate death herself but also with the relationships she starts to form with her colleagues, who are also not safe from the deadly illness.

I did not know a lot about the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza before reading this book. The illness isn’t as commonly known and portrayed as for example the Plague, which is portrayed in many novels new and old, such as Mary Hooper’s At the Sign Of the Sugared Plum or Noah Gordon’s The Physician. I had heard it mentioned before as, for example, Twilight’s Edward Cullen almost dies of Spanish Influenza before his adoptive father turns him into a vampire. and Matthew Crawley’s fiancée Lavinia dies of it in the British TV series Downton Abbey. However, this is the first time it was the main subject of a book I read.

In A Death Struck Year you get swept away into the terror that haunted the US during 1918. In a matter of days, a high number of people are dead no matter if young or old. However, in the midst of all this are the brave doctors and nurses tending to the sick and risking their own lives. I really liked how the book portrayed the whole situation and how events like this can bring out the best and worst in people, as for example some people abandoned their own families or looted and took advantage of the chaos. Books like this one make you question your own priorities and attitude. The whole novel seems to be incredibly well researched, and the author even provided some further information on the influenza at the end of the book. After finishing this novel you will definitely be more appreciative of modern medicine and the medical staff who even today risk their lives to save others, for example in the recent West African Ebola virus epidemic.

2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven (2016) by Chris Cleave

The Siege of Malta during World War II

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a novel about three young individuals during the beginning years of World War II. 18-year-old Mary volunteers for the war effort the day war is proclaimed. Tom, who is an education administrator, is shocked when his best friend enlists for the armed forces. And said best friend Alistair, who is actually an art restorer, is thrown into the war as a soldier. Mary is assigned as a teacher however gets left behind when the children are evacuated from London. Therefore, she starts teaching the also left-behind children who are black or mentally disabled. Tom is her employer and their relationship quickly gets stronger. However, when Mary meets Alastair, who is then sent to Malta, things get more complicated.

I had actually never heard of The Siege of Malta during World War II before, which should not to be confused with The Great Siege of Malta which took place in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island (not that I had heard of that one before). In the novel, when Alistair is sent to Malta, he is caught in the siege, where British soldiers were trapped, trying to maintain control of the strategic island while being bombed by the Germans and Italians. The novel isn’t holding back on the bleakness and horrors of war and therefore portrays the terrible conditions during the siege in a very realistic way.

The other part of the novel takes place in London during the infamous Blitz. There is a lot out there on the Blitz, but I still found it interesting to read about it from the perspective of Mary. I really liked how the novel’s portrayal of bravery wasn’t through heroic actions on the battlefield but through acts of kindness as for instance Mary teaching the rejected children or Alistair showing kindness to his men as an officer. The novel shows a new angle on World War II and shows Britain’s own flawed view on class and race while fighting Nazi Germany.

Now to you:

Have you read about these specific events before? Which are your favourite historical events and periods to read about? Are there any historical events you would like to read more about? Any book recommendations? Please tell me in the comments below.

About Bianca

bio pic Bianca is a Peace and Conflict Studies student in Germany. She likes reading, traveling, and discussing the latest Riverdale episode. She’s active in her church’s youth group and has become very proficient at making flyers. She hopes to one day be a diplomat, or possibly a band member. She also let Vlora write her biography, so clearly she is too trusting.

Find Bianca

On Twitter: @stumblinpenguin
On Instagram: @b_p_k

Thanks to Bianca for contributing another fantastic post to my blog and making sure there’s actually some quality content on here. Her post motivates me to read more historical fiction again too! I used to read it more when I was younger, because my mum and my grandma had some historical novels and I always raided their shelves. My favorites were The Oracle Glass, The Physician, and some steamy novels set in the stone age (do those count? possibly not). What about you?

6 Responses to “[Guest Post]: Rarely Portrayed Historical Events + Book Recs”

  1. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Ohhh I like this topic! I love when lesser-known events are shown in fiction- kind of makes a book unique. If you like the 1918 flu (you know what I mean haha), try The Uninvited by Cat Winters. Really good, and takes place during that time. Things seem to be a mess in Malta, when you have multiple sieges to deal with. I liked Into the Dim too, it goes to several pretty obscure historical time periods!

    • Bianca

      Thanks for the recommendation Shannon! The uniqueness of these books is exactly what I like about them, they just stand out from the crowd!

  2. Haley

    Unfortunately, I can’t think of many books I’ve read that focus on a less popular point in history. One that does come to mind, though, is The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I had to read it in high school and was very struck by it. The story follows two Jewish boys living in New York during World War II. I remember that, even in high school, I had the realization that I had read plenty of books about Jewish people during World War II, but they were all set in Europe. I had never read a book from the point of view of Jewish people living in America and hearing about the Holocaust but not being direct victims of it like the Jewish people who lived in Europe. I haven’t read the book since high school, and I really want to re-read it. There’s also a sequel that I’ve never read.

    • Bianca

      Hi Haley! Thanks for the recommendation! The book sounds really interesting. I never read anything about Jewish people during WWII that did not take place in Europe so I am definitely going to check it out!

  3. Wendy @ Falconer's Library

    First, I love the dress you are wearing in the picture with the wings mural! It matches the background so well!

    I feel like I’ve read a couple of books dealing with the Spanish Influenza, but I can’t think of what they are right now. I’ve certainly never read about Malta.

    I love all of Ruta Sepetys’s books. I also really like the middle grade novel A Night Divided which is set in Cold War East Berlin. Last year I read The Last Cherry Blossom and Sachicko, both of which tell stories of life in Japan during and after WWII.

    I do like historical fiction, but now that I think of it, a lot of what I’ve read is set during WWII, just before and during the US Civil War, Victorian England, pioneer/colonization era in the US west, or medieval Europe. There’s obviously a lot more history out there!

    And Vlora–I’m pretty sure I know which steamy stone age books you’re talking about!

    • Bianca

      Hi Wendy, thanks for your nice comment and all the recommendations! I have a tendency of reading about the same historical events over and over again and as you said there is so much history to explore so I’m trying to find new events and periods to read about!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge