Books transport you to new worlds, and historical fiction gives you a taste of life in the past. I’ve always enjoyed the genre—when I was in late elementary school, a historical fiction series got me so excited about Sweden that I asked for a Swedish English dictionary for my birthday, and even looked into Swedish school. That never happened, but my love for the genre has never dissipated. Here are five of my favorite historical fiction titles that you should put on your TBR (to be read) list this year.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book is a keeper, and the literary world seems to think so too, given that it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. Set during World War II, the story follows a blind French girl and a young German soldier. Like The Book Thief, it explores the German war mentality among normal soldiers and civilians, not the monstrous officers who tortured and killed Jews for fun, as we often remember the Nazis. Unlike The Book Thief, this book also tells of of friendship during hard times, which can be even more precious than friendship during peace. As a bonus, if you like WWII fiction, you should also try The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I don’t often read books with an older main character—probably because I spend most of my time with young adult fiction. But also, as a society, we celebrate youth to the exclusion of age, which I think is a mistake. This book is a wonderful little insight into the mind of an elderly British butler in the 1950s. He’s trying to decide how to serve a new, modern employer who doesn’t understand how a grand British estate “should” be run. I love the themes of age, growth, opportunity, and learning in this book. It’s a good reminder that even though I’m young right now, old age won’t be the end of my mental and spiritual growth.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Many people are familiar with this story because of the 2011 film. But the book is better. It has multiple POVs (points of view), which brings depth to the story of black maids in the South during the 1960s. Not only does The Help convey reality through fiction, but I like that the author didn’t just tell the black maids’ version—she also included one white character as a POV. Unlike a book like The Color Purple, it’s not just a story of white supremacy and black oppression, but of friendship, and the attempt to work together toward a better future.
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
For a long time, The Robe was one of my favorite books ever. I read it when I was 13, and it was the first time I really put Biblical events into a historical context. I had learned about the Bible’s historical context in school, but in my mind, I’d always separated it from history. The Robe tells about the Roman soldier who wins Christ’s robe at his cruxifixction (Matthew 27:35). It helped me understand Jerusalem under Roman rule and how the church spread throughout the Empire after Christ’s resurrection.
The Saxon Series by Bernard Cornwell
One of the ways I prepare to visit a new place is to read historical fiction about that location. When my husband (then fiancé) and I decided to go to Norway and Sweden on our honeymoon, I started looking for a book about the Vikings. The Saxon series, which starts with The Lost Kingdom, is without doubt the premier Viking fiction on the market, although the Vikings aren’t the main characters. The series follows the Saxons, led by Alfred the Great, as he united the British people (at that point, multiple kingdoms) and repelled the Vikings’ continued attempt to conquer the British Isles. This is an excellent series that will give you a taste of life in 10th-century England, and the reality of the threat the Vikings posed to the British people.
Stay tuned next week for five non-fiction books to read this year.