I thought #NANOWRIMO would never work for me. Historical fiction doesn’t lend itself to blasting out any old words and hoping they make a story. So far, my HistFic efforts have required some degree of research for nearly every sentence. Writing in an unfamiliar period means zero assumptions.
However, while waiting on Alpha Reader feedback on my first novel, I’ve been planning several other projects. The research all overlaps, meaning I have a much better foundation without having to search through twelve interlibrary loan tomes before moving to the next bit.
As it happens, I’m just about ready to rough in the text of two projects. As such, I’ve decided to use #NANOWRIMO to jack me up and see what develops.
I will start with one novel but allow myself to shift to the other when I get stuck. And I will get stuck. If I run out of steam on these two, I have two others waiting in the wings. If I end up with an enormous pile of random scenes for any of these projects, I will consider it a “win”. With everything else in my life, I can’t imagine getting to 50K words, but shooting high will go farther than shooting low.
I fully expect all hell to break loose now that I’ve put this out here. Besides, it’s still 2020, so anything can happen.
Risking my ego and sanity, I’ve placed the first 120 pages of my historical novel into the hands of several volunteer readers. (Gulp!)
Having finished the 2nd draft, I need feedback. I’m writing in a difficult period—few readers will come to it with any knowledge of the context. Why not let some smart friends see it and learn whether my initial efforts are working?
I’m still waiting on about half of the responses. Once received, I will study the areas of consensus and use the results to guide future drafts.
In the meantime, I’m brainstorming and outlining four other stories. Much of the research overlaps with the first book, so hopefully these won’t take another ten years to complete.
After decades of digging through Late Antiquity, I’d be foolish not to use the same material for other projects. Besides, it remains my passion.
I’m still rising early, usually between 2:00 and 3:30. My caregiving responsibilities start at 5am, so I do what I can before then.
Meanwhile, Covid. Not much to report from here. See my personal blog for that status. We’ve been tested twice—after possible exposure from healthcare providers. So far, so good.
I like to scan prize lists for potential Long Ago and Far Away reads. I’m happy to report that this year’s Booker International Prize nominees include the following historical fiction – four of the five are from off the beaten path:
Red Dogby Willem Anker, translated by Michiel Heyns from Afrikaans (Pushkin Press). From the publisher:
At the end of the eighteenth century, a giant strides the Cape Colony frontier. Coenraad de Buys is a legend, a polygamist, a swindler and a big talker; a rebel who fights with Xhosa chieftains against the Boers and British; the fierce patriarch of a sprawling mixed-race family with a veritable tribe of followers; a savage enemy and a loyal ally.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Treeby Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Anonymous from Farsi (Europa Editions) – from the publisher:
Set in Iran in the decade following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, this moving, richly imagined novel is narrated by the ghost of Bahar, a thirteen-year-old girl, whose family is compelled to flee their home in Tehran for a new life in a small village, hoping in this way to preserve both their intellectual freedom and their lives. But they soon find themselves caught up in the post-revolutionary chaos that sweeps across their ancient land and its people. Bahar’s mother, after a tragic loss, will embark on a long, eventful journey in search of meaning in a world swept up in the post-revolutionary madness.
The Adventures of China Ironby Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh from Spanish (Charco Press) – from the publisher:
…charts the adventures of Mrs China Iron, Martín Fierro’s abandoned wife, in her travels across the pampas in a covered wagon with her new-found friend, soon to become lover, a Scottish woman named Liz. While Liz provides China with a sentimental education and schools her in the nefarious ways of the British Empire, their eyes are opened to the wonders of Argentina’s richly diverse flora and fauna, cultures and languages, and to its national struggles.
The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin from German (Scribe UK) – from the publisher:
At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste …
Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin from German (Quercus) – From the publisher:
Daniel Kehlmann masterfully weaves the fates of many historical figures into this enchanting work of magical realism and adventure. This account of the seventeenth-century vagabond performer and trickster Tyll Ulenspiegel begins when he’s a scrawny boy growing up in a quiet village. When his father, a miller with a secret interest in alchemy and magic, is found out by the church, Tyll is forced to flee with the baker’s daughter, Nele. They find safety and companionship with a traveling performer, who teaches Tyll his trade. And so begins a journey of discovery and performance for Tyll, as he travels through a continent devastated by the Thirty Years’ War and encounters along the way a hangman, a fraudulent Jesuit scholar, and the exiled King Frederick and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree doesn’t really quite qualify as historical fiction but it still feels like a good fit and one I’d love to add to my TBR pile. It currently has one Amazon review but 221 on Goodreads.
Red Dog (two poor reviews on Amazon but 83 with a respectable 3.6 stars on Goodreads) also intrigues me especially as I am just now finishing up my blog post on Wilber Smith’s Monsoon (coming soon).
Dancing Girls Rehearsing – Photo Copyright Lausanne Davis Carpenter
I thought I would start some regional reading lists for our ready reference.
Since Central Asia has long been my personal fascination I will start there.
Here’s what I have found thus far:
Historical Fiction set in Central Asia by Asians:
Chingiz Aitmatov’s name rises to the top of any search. Aitmatov wrote in both Russian and Kirghiz. Many of his works are out of print but several are available on Amazon. Prices range from $0.01-$400.00.
White Steamship, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (August 14, 1972). ISBN 978-0-340-15996-5 (Soviet Era Kyrgyzstan)
The White Ship, Crown Publishing Group; 1st Edition (November 1972). ISBN 978-0-517-50074-3
Tales of the Mountains and the Steppes, Firebird Pubns; Second Printing edition (June 1973). ISBN 978-0-8285-0937-4 (Soviet Era)
Ascent of Mount Fuji, Noonday Press (June 1975). ISBN 978-0-374-51215-6 (Soviet Era)
Cranes Fly Early, Imported Pubn (June 1983). ISBN 978-0-8285-2639-5
The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, Indiana University Press (February 1, 1988). ISBN 978-0-253-20482-0 (Soviet Era Kazakhstan)
The Place of the Skull, Grove Pr; 1st edition (March 1989). ISBN 978-0-8021-1000-8
The Place of the Skull: Novel, International Academy of Sciences, Industry, Education & Arts (USA) (2000). ISBN 978-5-7261-0062-3
Time to Speak, International Publishers (May 1989). ISBN 978-0-7178-0669-0 The time to speak out (Library of Russian and Soviet literary journalism), Progress Publishers (1988). ISBN 978-5-01-000495-8 (Genre unclear)
Mother Earth and Other Stories, Faber and Faber (January 8, 1990). ISBN 978-0-571-15237-7 (Soviet Era Kyrgyzstan)
Jamila, Telegram Books (January 1, 2008). ISBN 978-1-84659-032-0 (World War II,Caucasus)
The Blue Sky: (translation in print from Der blaue Himmel, 1994)- Galsin Tschinag. (1940s Communist Mongolia).
Tschinag was from the Altai mountains of western Mongolia and wrote in German.
Wolf Totem – Rong Jiang (pseudomnym for Lu Jiamin) A bestseller in China, the story takes place in Mongolia – multiple periods.
The Railway– Set in 1900-1980 Uzbekistan by Uzbek writer: Hamid Ismailov
Of course Khaled Hosseini’s three novels set in Afghanistan (Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and, most recently, And the Mountains Echoed) are not to be missed even though they are set in the current milieu.
Central Asian Historical Fiction by Non-Central Asians:
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade – Diane Wilson (YA) (14th Century China)
The Conqueror Series (Five book saga of Ghengis Khan/Kublai Khan – 12th Century) – Conn Iggulden
Kim – Rudyard Kipling. Set during the Great Game as British India and Russia vied for control of Central Asia.
The web site states: “This year’s festival, which will take place in London, UK, to awaken the interest of the English reader to read the Central Asian literature translated into English, will also attract the public’s attention to the development of the publishing industry, as well as the publishers themselves to the potential of the Central Asian literature in the world market. The event will be attended by as many recognized in his home country of authors, including Hamid Ismailov and Casati Akamatova and British authors with works devoted to Central Asia.”
Unfortunately, I can’t find anywhere on the site which provides descriptions of works translated to English so I am not able to glean potential reading lists.
If anyone out there knows where to find this information, or happens to be at the festival, please let me know if there is any historical fiction we should know about.
Following that lead by googling Silk Road Media takes you to silkpress.com which mentions their recent publication of Christopher Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine the Great into Uzbek – the language of the protagonist. Who knew? That’s definitely going on my TBR list – the English edition, of course. My Uzbek is rusty.
Please let me know if you have anything to add to this list!
Ah, another tome to add to the stack. I just purchased Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies a few days ago but am currently reading Sharon Kay Penman’s Devil’s Brood, so I’ll be while yet. I’d love to hear about it from anyone who gets to it before I do.
Yesterday I received the latest edition of the Historical Novel Review – the quarterly magazine published by the Historical Novel Society. I am always anxious to see the reviews of new historical fiction and note which ones need to be added to my To Be Read list. In this round, I found 28 books under the printed reviews which fit our Long Ago & Far Away focus. For easy reference I am posting a list of those books here.
Three books under “Biblical” fit LAFA’s (Long Ago & Far Away) loose parameters, but since this period/location gets a lot of attention, I will skip them for this compilation. There are seven in the “Classical” category, six of which take place in either Rome or Greece, again, not really off the beaten path. I did include one from the classical period because it takes place in Turkey – a bit out of the way. I’m also skipping crusader stories since the context is already popular. I have included one from that period due to it’s Spanish setting being less familiar.
The Last King of Lydia – Tim Leach – Lydia (in present day Turkey) – 6th century BC
1200 year gap!
The Secret History – Stephanie Thornton – Byzantium – 6th century AD
600 year gap!
The Corpse Reader – Antonio Garrido (trans. Thomas Bunstead) – China – 13th century
Emeralds of The Alhambra – John D. Cressler – Granada – 14th century
200 year gap!
Claws of the Cat – Susan Spann – Japan – 16th century
200 year gap. (Is this like contractions?)
The Pagoda Tree – Claire Scobie – India – 18th century
The Devil is White – William Palmer – Africa – 18th Century
And now, the 19th century:
The Corsair – Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud (trans. Amira Noweira) – Bombay, Oman, Iraq and China – 19th century
The Scarlet Thief – Paul Fraser Collard – Crimea – 19th century
Kiku’s Prayer– Shusaku Endo (trans. Van C. Gessel) – Japan – 19th century
The Prisoner of Paradise – Romesh Guneskera – Mauritius – 19th century
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent – Iceland – 19th Century
The Collector of Lost Things – Jeremy Page – Arctic – 19th century
The Family Mansion – Anthony C. Winkler – Jamaica – 19th century
Blood Tango – Annamaria Alfieri – Argentina – 1945
The Roving Tree – Elsie Augustave – Haiti/Zaire – 1950s
Mystery in Malakand – Susanna Bell – Peshawar/Northwest Frontier/British India – 1920
Midnight in St. Petersburg – Vanora Bennett – Revolutionary Russia
Shadows on the Nile – Kate Furnivall – Egypt – 1932
The Gunners of Shenyang – Yu Jihui – China – 1960s
The Man From Berlin– Luke McCallin – Yugoslavia – 1943
The Bride Box – Michael Pearce – Egypt – 1913
The Child Thief – Dan Smith – Unkraine – 1930
Ben Barka Lane – Mahmoud Saeed (trans. Kay Heikkinen) Morroco – 1964 (originally published in Arabic in 1970, so fits only the loosest definition of historical fiction but it is definitely LAFA to most of us.
A Question of Honor – Charles Todd – India/England/France – early 1900s
Lighthouse Bay– Kimberley Freeman – Australia
The Age of Ice – J.M. Sidorova – Russia
The Ghost Bride – Yangze Choo – Malaysia
Exciting reading ahead! Which of these interest you the most?
There are additional reviews online (294 in total!). I will peruse those as soon as I am able. There are also YA and Children’s books reviewed both in the printed mag and online. If someone else would like to glean LAFA books from these before I have the chance, just let me know and we’ll get them posted.