Confession—I’m a closet history nerd. I love to bury myself in a well-researched and well-written history book, fiction or nonfiction. I get even more excited when history is woven into the present, so when I noticed that all three of this month’s reading recommendations from Literary Mama staff featured stories set both in the past and present, I added them to my reading list pronto, and I think you may want to as well.
Editor-in-chief Amanda Jaros is midway through this series: “If you’re looking for a purely entertaining escape from the real world, I highly recommend Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. It was only this summer that I discovered these novels, the first of which was published in 1991, but I have already devoured the first three and eagerly lined up the next three on my shelf. The series centers around Englishwoman Claire, a nurse from the 1940s who, while visiting Scotland with her husband, accidentally travels back in time 200 years through a magical ring of stones much like Stonehenge. Claire is taken in by a Scottish clan, faces down English redcoats, and falls in love with one gorgeous, red-headed, kilt-wearing Scot who she eventually marries. Claire and Jamie’s story moves back and forth between time as they have children, consider whether they should use Claire’s knowledge of the future to alter the course of history, and join in the Scottish war on England. Outlander defies genre categorization as it merges romance, fantasy, adventure, and historical fiction. Gabaldon has created a thoroughly researched and deeply compelling saga that once you pick up, I assure you, you won’t put down.”
Andrea Lani, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, thinks you’ll enjoy this one as much as she did: “I recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s 2018 novel, Unsheltered, which alternates by chapter between the current day and Victorian times. The contemporary story revolves around a family experiencing what seem like pre-apocalyptic horrors—climate change, downward mobility, crushing student loan debt, aging parents, political divisions, and suicide—while trying to keep the ancient house they inherited from literally falling down around their heads. The historic part of the book takes place in a Utopian community in New Jersey, where a young teacher struggles against the strictures of the closed society and the unrealistic financial expectations of his pretty wife, meanwhile becoming fascinated with his next-door neighbor, the real-life naturalist Mary Treat. I’m always a sucker for stories about ‘lady naturalists’ who grubbed around in the dirt at a time when women were expected to be empty-headed ornaments for the drawing room, and the glimpse into Treat’s life is fascinating. I also adore Kingsolver’s language—every sentence pregnant with metaphor and meaning and lush with poetry and human empathy—and humor! The many wry, funny lines keep the modern-day element of the story from feeling too bleak. It was, despite the all-too-real depictions of modern-day anxiety, a delightful read.”
Reviews Editor Denise Guibord was impressed by this one: “The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa mixes two narratives from historical WWII and the modern day. Based on the true story of the ocean liner St. Louis that left Europe in 1939 with 900 passengers bound for Cuba, part of the story is told by 12-year-old Hannah Rosenthal, a blue-eyed, wealthy Jewish girl who watches the slow unraveling of her family, her friends, and her home in Berlin. She and her family know they are ‘lucky’ to have passage out of Europe, yet when the ship arrives in Havana, the Cuban authorities won’t allow anyone to disembark. Eventually, only a handful of passengers go ashore, including Hannah, and she watches as her beloved father and best friend Leo sail away never to be seen again. Meanwhile, Anna (named after Hannah) is 12 years old living in New York in 2014. As an only child, she is vaguely aware that her father died on 9/11 before she was born—and before Anna’s mother could tell him she was pregnant. Anna’s mother is still grieving and depressed, but after she receives a package from Cuba on her birthday, Anna is determined to learn more about her father and his family. As they make plans to travel to meet 87-year-old Hannah, both Anna and her mother feel a stronger sense of connection to their father/husband, who they yearn to know more about. The narratives are intertwined throughout the book, even when they meet each other face-to-face in Cuba and share the larger context of their heartbreaking and tragic stories. Correa does a great job, showing the depth and intricacies of relationships that can lead to healing, even if the healing for Hannah turns out to be agonizing. There is, however, a hopeful future for young Anna as she returns to New York.”
Over to you. Which time-traveling books have you enjoyed? Share with us in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.