Even though I participate in giving Monthly Recommendations, I thought I would start my own where every couple weeks I give recommendations for a specific topic. Today I’m doing recommendations for diverse historical fiction. There has been some discussion in the twitter book community about diversity in historical fiction lately, and I wanted to highlight some of my favourites. ALSO these are all #ownvoices
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.
This was one of the best books I read in 2018. There were so many good things about it, and all the relationships were so interesting and realistic. Please just read it.
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
Thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp in 1946, still grieving the recent death of her mother, and repatriated to Japan with her embittered father. They arrive in a devastated Tokyo occupied by the Americans under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Aya’s English-language abilities are prized by the principal of her new school, but her status as the “repat girl” makes her a social pariah–until her seatmate, a fierce, willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, decides that Aya might be able to help her find her missing older sister. Beautiful Sumiko has disappeared into the seedy back alleys of the Ginza. Fumi has heard that General MacArthur sometimes assists Japanese citizens in need, and she enlists Aya to compose a letter in English asking him for help.
Corporal Matt Matsumoto is a Japanese-American working for the Occupation forces, and it’s his overwhelming job to translate thousands of letters for the General. He is entrusted with the safe delivery of Fumi’s letter; but Fumi, desperate for answers, takes matters into her own hands, venturing into the Ginza with Aya in tow.
This was also amazing. I’ve always been fascinated with Japan, and I think the post-war period was super interesting. The characters in this book are great, and the story and pacing are also great. The only thing I didn’t love was the ending.
Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Pearl and May are sisters, living carefree lives in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia. But when Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, they set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America.
Lisa See is hands down one of the best historical fiction authors I’ve ever read from. This book is so heart-wrenching. But also so good. Honestly please just read it.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
BOY Novak turns twenty and decides to try for a brand-new life. Flax Hill, Massachusetts, isn’t exactly a welcoming town, but it does have the virtue of being the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. Flax Hill is also the hometown of Arturo Whitman –- craftsman, widower, and father of Snow. SNOW is mild-mannered, radiant and deeply cherished –- exactly the sort of little girl Boy never was, and Boy is utterly beguiled by her. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When BIRD is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her, and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart.
This book is so interesting, and I highly recommend it. It wasn’t my favourite, but it’s also a book I think I’ll reread at some point and really appreciate.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
These next two are from my mom. I have yet to read Homegoing (despite it being on almost every TBR I post), but she loves it, just like (it seems) everyone else.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.
Again, I haven’t read this one yet. But I got it for my mom for Christmas, and she loves it. She hasn’t finished it yet (when I’m writing this), but she said she’s loving everything about it.
So those are some of my recommendations for diverse historical fiction. Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations for diverse historical fiction? Let me know!