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.
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.
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.
On Twitter: @stumblinpenguin
On Instagram: @b_p_k
Thanks to Bianca for contributing another fantastic post to my blog