Historical Fiction allows you to be a part of a time long past. True events or studies may have inspired these stories, but one thing is always clear: there is a lesson to learn or even a memory to keep.
In no particular order, these books talk about events or notable figures from different parts of the world. Some of these books include Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone.
Great Historical Fiction Books That You Should Read
1. Les Miserables- Victor Hugo
This book was written from a French background. Through Victor Hugo’s writing prowess, we see Jean Valjean and Fantine get shunned by society. In Valjean’s case, he goes to prison for stealing bread while Fantine is treated with scorn for having a child out of wedlock.
2. The Great Alone- Kristin Hannah
It is an American tale of a former prisoner of war, Ernt. Albright. When he returned from Vietnam, the former POW found life different and realized that he could not fit into the changes in society.
One of the notable events is his decision to move his family to Alaska after losing another job.
3. The Pillars of the Earth- Ken Follett
The award-winning book is about anarchy, ambition, and power told through the eyes of the characters in the book. The story takes place within forty years in a medieval England society.
The intriguing narrative earned the book the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1979.
4. An Officer and A Spy- Robert Harris
This is a chilling conspiracy book that gives an account of the Dreyfus, a political crisis that began in 1894 and continued till 1906.
5. Schindlers Ark- Thomas Keneally
This is a fascinating book written by Keneally which is about one of the greatest disasters of history-the holocaust. The book is chilling and quite a celebration of the heroic effort of Oskar Schindler, a nazi officer who rescued 1200 Jews during the holocaust.
The book won the Booker Prize in 1982. The captivating story has since been adapted into the film, Schindler’s List, one of the most captivating movies about the holocaust.
6. Roots: The Saga of an American Family- Alex Haley
Alex Haley traces his family history from America through seven generations. It includes former lumber mill workers, blacksmiths, farmers, freedmen, and slaves to an ancestor named Kunta Kinte who was abducted from his home in the Sene-Gambia region of West Africa in September 1767.
Some historical facts inspire roots but Haley has stated that some dialogues are fiction. This explains why it is on this list. The book was adapted into the 1977 mini-series, Roots.
7. South Pole Station- Ashley Shelby
The book is an account of surviving the harsh conditions in Antarctica. Many have described the novel as a comedy of horrors and a must-read for one of Earth’s difficult places to live.
The book is Ashley Shelby’s debut but the captivating narrative is not lost on many lovers of historical fiction. To show for it, it has won awards and recognitions including the
- Won the Lascaux Prize in Fiction(2017)
- New York Times Editor’s Choice
- Shelf Awareness’ Best Novels
- Earther’s Best Environmental Fiction(2017)
8. Victim of the Aurora- Thomas Keneally
Written by the award-winning Australian author, Thomas Keneally, the book is an account of an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.
However, as the story unfolds, it becomes a murder mystery set on the Antarctic tundra to discover who killed one of the expedition’s members.
9. The Great Wall of China- John Man
His account of one of the wonders of the ancient world, Wan Chang Cheng Li(The Great Wall of China) is as fascinating as an eye-opener. Many suggest you read this book if you have plans to visit this historical landmark.
10. War Trash- Ha Jin
The book is about the experiences of Yu Yuan, a Chinese veteran of the Korean War. During the communist takeover of the Chinese government, he was still a student and when he graduated and joined the military, he was treated with suspicion because his family
The tale is told as a memoir and since its release in 2004, the book has won accolades like the PEN/Faulkner award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
11. The Mountains Sing- Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Nguyen’s tale is about 20th-century Vietnam through four generations. The book captures the truth of war and lessons on the birth of North and South Korea.
12. Investiture of the Gods- Xu Zhonglin
This is a compelling book that blends historical stories with magical fantasies about change of power. In this narrative, Chinese mythical figures are also involved in the power struggle that overthrew the Shang dynasty and established the Zhou dynasty.
13. Weep Not, Child- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Released in 1964, the book gives an account of the effects of the Mau Mau uprising on the lives of ordinary people. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o tells the story through the eyes of the brothers, Njoroge and Kamau.
- The East Africa Novel Prize(1963)
- Unesco First Prize (1964)
- Lotus Prize for Literature(1973)
14. Trust- Hernan Diaz
It is about the quest for power, money, and control on Wall Street.
15. One Hundred Years of Solitude- Gabriel García Márquez
The Colombian writer and noble Prize winner, Gabriel García Márquez tells his narrative of generations of a Buendia family of Macondo who are entangled in the intrigues of love and solitude.
Márquez uses historical events and Latin American experiences to add to the richness of the work.
16. Shogun- James Clavell
James Clavell takes us to the Sengoku period in Japanese history and how a bold English pilot adjusted to life. He was blown ashore and he encountered a warlord and an interpreter.
One of the running themes of the book is power and love.
17. Half of a Yellow Sun- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Set in the post-colonial period, Half of a Yellow Sun is the story of war and love. It is told through the lives of the characters living in different classes of society.
- Women’s Prize for Fiction (2007)
- PEN Open Book Award(2007)
- Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction(2007)
- Orange Prize for Fiction(2007)
18. Cry, the Beloved Country- Alan Paton
It is a tale of the brutality of the apartheid system in South Africa. Cry, the Beloved Country takes us back in time to the years before apartheid and how it was institutionalized.
The narrative is told through the life of a black village priest(Stephen Kumalo) and a white farmer(James Jarvis) whose lives get entangled by a murder.
Delving deeper into the book, the characters in the book find redemption as well as grace despite all the challenges encountered.
19. The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini tells the captivating story of friendship, love, betrayal, redemption, and family. Though The Kite Runner was released in 2003, it captures a tumultuous time in Afghanistan’s history.
This is marked by a power shift in the 60s, the 1973 coup, the Soviet invasion, and Taliban guerrilla warfare. The book won:
- Borders Original Voices Award(2003)
- Entertainment Weekly Best Book(2003)
- South African Boeke Prize(2004)
20. All The Light We Cannot See- Anthony Doerr
It is a tale of a French girl who lost her sight and a German boy who can endure World War II through their strength, determination, and courage.
21. The Night Watchman- Louise Erdrich
It is a story of resistance against the elimination and displacement of a native American community in the 50’s. One of the attention-grabbing themes is the resilience of the native Americans in the face of discrimination and deprivation which they have to fight despite raging poverty and alcoholism.
22. Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe
The Nigerian writer gives an account of life in pre-colonial Igboland and the coming of the colonialists. It is a deep reflection on change and adaption to it.
The main character, Okonkwo is a celebrated man in his community from the onset of the book. Still, towards the end, he finds himself an outcast after accidentally killing a kinsman. The book’s tone changes as he is caught between a world of his past and future(an emergent Africa) that he is not prepared for.
23. Homegoing- Yaa Gyasi
It is a tale of two sisters separated by the slave trade. Their descendants are now divided between Ghana and America. Like the Roots, Yaa Gyasi takes us in time through three hundred years of history.
24. A Good American- Alex George
It is an account of three generations of the Meisenheimer’s, an immigrant family trying to live the American Dream. Seen through the eyes of the Meisenheimer’s, it is a story of being an outsider.
25. North Woods- Daniel Mason
Are looking for a mystery hidden in Historical fiction? North Woods will have a chilling effect on you as we follow the crime reporter’s find in a mass grave. As the story progresses it shows that the North Woods is not just all about the past but a living part of the lives of all those involved.
26. Gone With The Wind- Margaret Mitchell
Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is about the cost of war. The 1936 book is set in the Civil War period of American history and how people can move on with their lives. The story captures the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, daughter of a wealthy planter, and her quest for love during the war and the post-war period.
The book won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Novel.
27. The Nightingale- Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah’s skilled writing is once more captured in this wartime story and how women can live. Reading the lines through the book, one can’t help but feel transported to the mood of all the wives, daughters, and widows living in Nazi-occupied France.
28. Memoirs of a Geisha- Arthur Golden
Published in 1997, Arthur Golden tells the tale of a fictional Geisha in Japan. The story is told in the first-person point of view to show career and personal changes in her life during and after World War II.
One of the running themes of the book is how the geisha is made a sexual object for the gratification of others. However, she later changes the narrative by using s*x to please herself.
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29. Pachinko- Min Jin Lee
This is another book set in wartime. It captures the theme of the identity of Korean people in Japan.
Reading through the pages, one of the most obvious themes is how they are seen as outsiders in Japan despite being born there. Sadly, they don’t fare better in Korea and this creates the need for a true sense of identity.
30. The Book Thief- Markus Zusak
Set in Nazi Germany, Markus Zusak gives a captivating and chilling account of survival and endurance. Liesel Meminger is the book thief in the title and she finds pleasure and comfort in reading.
As the story unfolds, her German family is caught between hiding a Jew(Max and drawing attention to them. Though they had to force the man to leave, the story becomes quite tragic when their town is bombed Liesel and Max are the only survivors.
31. The Other Boleyn Girl- Phillipa Gregory
Gregory gives a fictional account of the 16th-century aristocrat Mary Boleyn. Mary, sister of Anne Boleyn and wife of King Henry VIII is not well known and her life comes to life in the pages of The Other Boleyn Girl.
32. A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens
Set in London, the author captures our attention with events before and after the French Revolution. It is a story of love and sacrifices despite a major event happening.
33. The 19th Wife- David Ebershoff
This book gives an insight into polygamy within the Mormon church. David Ebershoff tells the story of Ann Eliza Young who was married to the Mormon leader, Brigham Young.
Reading through the pages of The 19th Wife, you will be intrigued by a story that merges murder, mystery, and religion.
34. The Underground Railroad- Colson Whitehead
The book was released in 2016 but it captures the mood of slavery and the struggle for freedom. The Underground Railroad recounts history through the story of Cora, a slave in Georgia as she struggles to gain her freedom by following the underground railway.
Colson Whitehead’saccount is quite interesting and unsurprisingly, it won;
- Pulitzer Prize for Fiction(2017)
- National Book Award for Fiction(2016)
- Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Historical Fiction(2016)
35. War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
The Russian author, Leo Tolstoy recounts one of the most turbulent periods in history in a timeless tale. The book is an account of the Napoleonic era and how it affected Russia. Notably, it brings to light the French invasion of Russia.
Lessons from the book border on the effects of war, family, love, and loyalty.