Sunday, November 13, 2022

Five top historical novels to remind you how strange the past really was

Born in London, Emily Mitchell moved to the United States as a teenager. She has since lived in Vermont, Osaka, London, New York, San Francisco,West Virginia, Ohio, and Washington DC.

She holds a B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont. She worked at an editor at Index on Censorship magazine in London and at in New York before getting her M. F. A. at Brooklyn College.

Mitchell is the author of a novel, The Last Summer of the World (2007), an imaginative account of art-photographer Edward Steichen’s work in aerial reconnaissance during World War One, which was a finalist for the 2008 New York Public Library Young Lions Prize and a best-book-of-the-year in the Madison Capital Times, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Providence Journal. She is also the author of a collection of short stories, Viral (2015). Her short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Ploughshares, New England Review, TriQuarterly, and Alaska Quarterly Review, among other magazines. Her book reviews have appeared in the New York Times and the New Statesman. She has received fellowships from the Sewanee Writers Conference, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Ucross Foundation. She lives near Washington, DC and teaches writing at the University of Maryland.

At Shepherd Mitchell tagged five of the best historical novels to remind you how strange the past really was, including:
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

This was the first novel written by Ondaatje I ever read, when I was in my early 20s, and it was a revelation. The story of Count Lazslo d’Almasy’s doomed love for
the wife of a British archeologist in the Egyptian desert in the years before the Second World War is interspersed and pointedly contrasted with the story of the Canadian nurse, Hana, who cares for the severely disfigured Almasy years later in an abandoned house in France and Hana’s romance with a Sikh man from India who has been drafted into the British army as a sapper. Side by side the two stories lead the reader to inevitable questions about love, equality, freedom, the persistence of history both personal and collective. Here as elsewhere, Ondaatje’s understated lyrical prose makes the worlds he portrays shimmer.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The English Patient also made Cathy Rentzenbrink's list of the top ten bookworms in fiction, Eli Goldstone's ten top list of secrets in fiction, Sarah Moss's top ten list of hospital novels, Robert Allison's top ten list of novels of desert war, Joel Cunningham's list of sixteen book-to-movie adaptations that won Academy Awards, Pico Iyer's top five list of books on crossing cultures, John Mullan's list of ten of the best deserts in literature and Jane Ciabattari's list of five masterpiece stories that worked as films.

--Marshal Zeringue