Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ten Plus One for Women's History Month

Here's another list of books I enjoyed that seem to fit with Women's History Month.  They are all fiction, but every one has either a strong woman (or women) as the main character or is about a woman and family history.  I think all give an idea of an earlier time period to help the reader understand the social and physical environment of a time in which our ancestors lived.

I hesitated to share fiction but felt encouraged to do so after reading Jill Lepore's discussion of history vs. fiction in Book of Ages.  It seems that in earlier times -- late 1700s -- some people believed that history was less true than fiction and that a story made up from one's mind could be more accurate than someone's version of history.  I've already returned Book of Ages to the library so can't quote from it but the discussion definitely gave me a different view of historical fiction and of history edited and rewritten.

So here are eleven historical fiction books I've enjoyed in recent years.  Perhaps you will enjoy them, too.

The Trees.  Conrad Richter
This is the first book in The Awakening Land trilogy.  The setting of the story is Ohio before it became a state in 1803.  The heroine of the story is Sayward (pronounced Saird) Luckett, a girl as the story begins.  Along with her father, mother, and four younger siblings, she travels to the wilds of Ohio and the family begins to make a home there.  By our current standard of living, the challenges they face seem insurmountable.



The Fields.  Conrad Richter
This is the continuing story of Sayward and her family.  In this second book of The AWakening Land trilogy Sayward marries and has children.  The forest becomes fields and by the end of this book there is a small town around her house.  I think this series is excellent for social history for the genealogist. 




The Town.  Conrad Richter
I think Sayward Luckett Wheeler is one of my heroes!  There is a quiet, sensible (and sometimes almost primitive) wisdom about her – very down to earth.  This book received the Pulitzer Prize in 1951.  While the series takes place between the late 1700s and mid-1800's (through about the Civil War), the last book seems timely for today.  It's the story of a woman and her family but in addition, the reader is presented with the change of values, living conditions, and expectations that took place during the story's time period.


Maisie Dobbs and others in the series.  Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie served as a nurse during World War I.  At War's end she opened her own business as a private investigator.  In this first book, through her memories, we learn about her earlier life as a servant, as a battlefield nurse, and how she came to learn the skills to be a private investigator.  All the books in the series present cultural and social situations of the post-World War I time period.  Which of any of our ancestors didn't live through World War I, either in the U.S. or somewhere else in the world?


The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford.  Flora Thompson   
This is autobiographical but presented as a fictional story.  The author Flora becomes Laura in the book which takes place in 1880s Oxfordshire, England.  Lovely.  This is a great book for anyone interested in social history for that time period in England.




Wives and Daughters.  Elizabeth Gaskell
I saw the movie before I read the book.  I liked both equally well but for different reasons.  The book, as nearly always, gives more insight into the thoughts of the characters.  This is a story about the child, Molly Gibson, who grows into a young woman in early 1800s England.  Elizabeth Gaskell wrote about the time period in which she grew up so there may be more accuracy to this book than some of the others. 


The Forgotten Garden.  Kate Morton
At age 18 Nell learns that she was raised by parents who were not her own, that she was found by the man she thought was her father, a shipyard worker, on a dock in Australia.  She searches to find out who she really is and the search continues with her granddaughter, Cassandra.  This is perhaps this book is the one that most clearly focuses on family history of this group.
     From the book:  “How odd that she should be so moved by the plight of forebears she’d only just learned she had.”


Remarkable Creatures:  A Novel.  Tracy Chevalier
I enjoyed this book.  It took a bit to figure out the time period, which turned out to be early-mid-1800s.  This is a biographical novel of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot who were both early discoverers of fossils in Lyme Regis.  Though there’s about a 20-year difference in their ages, a friendship develops.  I thought it was very tenderly written.



Mama’s Bank Account.  Kathryn Forbes.
This is the book on which the movie “I Remember Mama” is based.   The book is just as good as the movie was.   This is about a Norwegian-American family in about 1910.  The book is filled with vignettes in which the family members face challenges and overcome those challenges with the help of Mama.  It was a pleasure to read this book.   




North and South.  Elizabeth Gaskell
Margaret lives with her aunt at the beginning, then moves back home with her mother and parson father.  Her father gives up his calling as a priest and moves the family to an industrial town in the north of England.  Changes all around.  Again, Gaskell wrote about what she knew.




My Name Is Mary Sutter.  Robin Oliveira
Strong-willed, independent Mary Sutter, midwife, desires to become a surgeon on the eve of the Civil War.  When rejected by the medical schools of the time she becomes a nurse for the Union Army.  The author places fictional Mary into historical settings where she interacts with both fictional characters and historical figures.  The book primarily focuses on the medical environment during the Civil War, particularly on the battlegrounds and immediately after battles.  Be prepared for some gruesomeness.


Happy reading!

--Nancy.
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