Let’s look back in time through these Historical Fiction Books. Ever since the dawn of human civilization, there has existed an innate tendency to be superior. Something that was an essential evolutionary trait soon morphed into an insatiable thirst to rule over others. Nascent history was mouldable. Over time, it was crafted by those in power and what we now learn from textbooks is just a blatant chronology of events that often fails to serve its purpose – to elicit a deep-rooted sense of compassion for our predecessors.
Best Historical Fiction Books!
This is where historical fiction comes into play – to fill the apathetic gap between us and history. What makes a book historical fiction? It dives into the base and scoops out the reality that we read in the form of a story. There are different types like Historical Romance, Biography, Adventures, etc. Historical fiction novels help to develop an emotion-driven adherence to our roots. Often, we get to acknowledge certain events that were either edited out of history or evaporated into oblivion before the major ones. It paints a vivid picture of authentic reality through fiction. This genre gave us some prolific writers. Having said that, let’s check out some great historical fiction books for beginners and readers alike. The latter may as well add these to their bucket list.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is often considered Zusak’s avant-garde, the brightest literary embellishment in historical fiction. It is set in the fictional town of Molching, Germany, near Munich, when the holocaust was at its zenith (1939-1943). The book is known for its ingenious narrative style, wherein the themes of friendship, loyalty, and love are impeccably described by ‘death’ itself. The Protagonist, Liesel Meminger, after being separated from her family, is taken in by the Hubermanns. Where begins her quest to learn, to make words her best of Achates.
Driven by an insatiable thirst to learn, she learns from books she steals and ends up writing her own story. During times of need and desperation, she holds on to words, and it’s almost surreal to witness her deep-rooted connection. You’ll end up emotionally investing in all the characters, and everyone creates such a special place that their loss feels like a personal one. It may appear as a tragic story, but that is just the façade. Deep down, a golden thread of hope runs throughout the seemingly colorless skein of life and death, making this book a special and highly recommended read. You can get the book here! 📖
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
“The Kite Runner” is the maiden work of Khaled Hosseini. The story builds up on the grounds of war-torn Afghanistan; the time period is chiefly the second half of the 20th century. It encompasses the painful journey of Afghanistan through some of the major political happenings, including some snippets from the peaceful 40 years reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah, the fall of the Afghan monarchy, the rise and fall of communism through the Soviet invasion, the ascent of Taliban regime (1996-2001) and finally the aftermath of the devasted country itself. But it’s much more than just a nondescript account of the political events of Afghanistan on the surface. Instead, Hosseini has dextrously interwoven it with a moving tale of friendship between two boys – Amir and Hassan.
The story unfolds from the perspective of Amir. He enjoys the luxuries of his family, belonging to the socially acceptable Pashtuns. Amir and the son of his father’s servant Hassan who belongs to the oppressed Hazaras, share an unshakeable bond. While Amir enjoys materialistic opulence, he is devoid of fatherly love. Baba dotes over Hassan, which has sowed the seeds of jealousy in Amir’s core. Every year Amir and Hassan compete against each other in the kite flying tournament. Amir is determined to snatch away the victory to win his father’s admiration. This seemingly inconsequential affair becomes a poignant tale of betrayal, a touchstone of friendship, and a quest for redemption. The masterpiece has also incorporated the pronounced discrimination on ethnic grounds between the two factions – Sunni Pashtuns and Shi’a Hazaras which came into prominence with the Taliban invasion. You can get the book here! 📖
The Murder Of King Tut by James Patterson and Martin Dugard
“History is written by victors” is the only quote that hasn’t lost its credibility over time. “The Murder of King Tut” is an attempt to unveil the sinister layers – the lingering jealousy, hatred, and lust for the throne in the Palace of the boy king – Tutankhamun in Amarna, Egypt. This book is divided into 3 parts. Tut’s story in the 1300s BC, the story of Carter, a short-tempered Egyptologist who discovered Tut’s burial chamber, and the third part about Patterson himself.
The book presents an ingenious take on the reason behind Tut’s death. Was it really the broken leg or a blood clot in the brain? An impacted wisdom tooth or a Broken right ankle? Why was the tomb of his half-sister and wife Ankhesenpaaten never discovered? And why was the name of King Tut banished from history? As you flip through, the writing becomes so immersive that the details become almost graphic. The exhilaration is when a burial chamber or a tomb is unearthed after carefully and deftly removing the layers of the earth so as not to damage the artifacts.
You’ll marvel at Hatshepsut’s excavated temple, which broke the age-old tradition and ruled as the first female Pharaoh. The smell of the age-old air trapped inside the burial chambers not even touched by time and, finally, the burst of excitement when the seemingly meager burial chamber of Tut would be discovered. How intricately it was built to keep the history from resurfacing. I want to hail James Patterson for weaving such an intriguing storyline from blatant exhaustive facts, which would have been brain-pestering had they been compiled. You can get the book here! 📖
The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
You must have heard about Hitler and Mussolini, but have you heard about Francisco Franco? “The Fountains of Silence” by Ruta Sepetys apprises the readers of his equally brutal dictatorship in Spain. The year is 1957 when Spain is still in the shackles of Franco and trying to fight back the repercussions of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The book starts on a light note when 18-year-old Daniel Matheson arrives in Madrid with his family as one of the tourists. His father is an oil tycoon and wants Daniel to continue in the family business, but Daniel is passionate about photography.
Their family stays in a luxury hotel where Ana, a beautiful maid, looks after them. Daniel and Ana fall for each other, and it would have been a perfect tale of YA romance had it happened somewhere else. Daniel captures daily life, anything and everything he finds simply usual (or too unusual?). His photographs tell him something is quite not right there, but nobody in Spain is ready to spill the beans. Ana and her family have their own struggles and secrets, and she now finds it difficult to hide them away from Daniel. It keeps getting horrifying as Sepetys slowly peels away the layers of history, giving the readers time to savor and believe the petrifying reality of those times. She effortlessly touches upon the truths that are too subtle to notice. You can get the book here! 📖
Belonging by Umi Sinha
“Belonging” isn’t something your history books teach you. The book elucidates the horrific events spanning from, around First War of Indian independence (1857) to World War I and its aftermath through three narrators – Cecily (Henry’s mother), Henry, and Lila (Henry’s daughter). It takes you to that era and compels you to see for yourself that war is a double-edged sword. It is a well-researched book written in the form of letters or diary entries, another brilliant validation of its title.
Hindus were buried, and Muslims were burnt. Men were blown by cannons. How Indians were ostracized from their own land, and how they faced discrimination outside of India. How women were forced to perform deliberate abortions because they feared their child might look like an Indian. How they were forced to conceal their identity, their very belonging, to escape the wrath of the Britishers. How people were forced to uproot themselves. The racial prejudice and how many love stories surrendered before the fear of half-caste.
The war left soldiers trembling and hysterical, and those who stayed home lived in a constant state of oblivion of not knowing. If soldiers suffered physically, their loved ones suffered mentally. Everybody fought, some with their opponents on a battlefield and some with their own thoughts at home. The book is a mosaic of themes. Primarily how the British colonization of India, the war, and its repercussions seeped into everything possible and rendered it barren, dead, and devoid of its belonging. You can get the book here! 📖
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas By John Boyne
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is one of those books based on the Holocaust era when Germany was under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Bruno is a nine-year-old kid who lives with his family in a comfy home in Berlin. His father works for the fuehrer, and he has been suddenly promoted to Commandant. This causes the sudden transfer of his family from Berlin to a strange place on the outskirts near Auschwitz camp. This new place turns out to be an embodiment of lifelessness for Bruno. One day while looking out of his window, Bruno discovers a ‘fenced’ area with soldiers and children in striped pajamas not so far away from his place. He decides to explore further out of curiosity and innocence.
Little did he know that he was standing inches away from one of the most traumatizing places in the world. He meets a boy his age who lives on the other side of the fence. Bruno and Shmuel become friends and Bruno sometimes even brings snacks for Shmuel. It is recommended for children above thirteen years of age, considering its disturbing effect on young minds. This book has been criticized by a few scholars and readers, calling out the misleading historical facts presented in the course of the plot. So, the best way to read this book is to keep away the technicalities and surrender yourself entirely to the heart-wrenching story. You can get the book here! 📖
A Promised Land by Khadija Mastur (Translated by Daisy Rockwell)
“Partition” – apparently an attractive literary device, as modern writers may call it, but for those who suffered its repercussions, this theme served as an attempt to enlighten future generations. “A Promised Land” begins with the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and continues till 1954. The book is a diverging branch that sets itself apart as it portrays refugees’ mental and physical suffering, precisely the womenfolk.
💯 👉 RECOMMENDED: The Spine Chilling Experience of Reading “Train to Pakistan”!
There is a neat lineup of three perspectives Sajidah (the protagonist), Taji, Saleema, and Lali. Sajidah comes to Pakistan with her father and seeks temporary refuge in Walton camp. Her father dies, her love for Salahuddin is never requited, and she ends up marrying Nazim against her will. She fights back when Kasim (Nazim’s brother) tries to assault her. It also deals with land greed, corrupt bureaucracy, and feudalism that strangled the aspirations which came along with the ‘promised land’ when active rehabilitation was going on both sides.
While reading, you’ll realize how Mastur tried to save her novel from falling into the clutches of conventional mindsets that attempted to throttle the voice of women during its very infancy. She restrained using straightforward words viz. ‘abortion’, ‘sex’, and ‘harassment’. This alludes to how hard it was for the womenfolk back then to voice the un-voiced. You can get the book here! 📖
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Whenever we hear the word “grandmother” the first thought that comes to our mind is the stories she used to tell us in our childhood about the perfect lives of fairies or about her own happy childhood and hometown. In “The Mountains Sing” Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, Deu Lan narrates her survival story to her granddaughter. It is a tale of love, courage, and motherhood through a multigenerational perspective. It is agonizing to see how Deu Lan’s childhood and family members were snatched away from her by the great hunger, land reform, and the Vietnam war (1955-1975). Reading about her struggles makes you think maybe now is the time she will finally give up, but she never fails to baffle you with her endless fighting spirit.
You can’t help but admire how Deu Lan managed to remain not only sane but kind even after experiencing the horrors of war. You will feel for her and her family as they drag themselves away from the physical and mental trauma of the war. The women in this book are the epitome of strength. It is one of those novels that will make you feel grateful for the life you are living. The author has even apprised the readers of the Vietnamese culture, and you will feel yourself wandering through the serene mountains of Vietnam while reading this book. The writing style is poetic, flowy, and easy to get into. It is perfect if you don’t have any prior knowledge about Vietnam’s history or even to change your perspective about it. You can get the book here! 📖
Two by Gulzar
“Two” by Sampooran Singh Kalra, aka Gulzar, was originally written in Urdu. It avows the horrors of partition (1947), anti-Sikh riots (1984), and ultimately Kargil (1999), through the storylines of a few characters, namely Lakhbeera, Fauji, Panna bai, Family of Karam Singh, and more who were uprooted from Campbellpur (now Attock) in Pakistan and migrated to Hindustan.
“As the day of independence neared, freedom seemed more and more distant.”
Being a translated historical fiction, the writing style is simple, but the book is known for its penetrative power. People were strangers in their own motherland. They drifted like dead leaves from one place to fall on another. The seconds were painful, hours tormenting, weeks, months, and years. It is said time heals wounds, but days hobbled on, and it seemed the wounds weren’t visible to time.
A myriad of books based on a partition does exist. Still, a story leaves its mark only when the partition is not treated just as an attractive literary device but also as an attempt to spread awareness. I would wholeheartedly suggest “TWO” because apart from being a significant chapter in the history of India, Partition is somewhere still breathing into our Social-political discourse. You can get the book here! 📖
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
“Salt to the Sea” is set in east Prussia, and the year is 1945 when World War 2 was at a close and Hitler was trying desperately to make Germany win. The US had already entered the war, and Germany was at war with the US; Germany had been at war with the Soviet Union since operation Barbarossa of 1941. When Hitler finally realized that he was in deep water and that Germany had already lost, he ordered the evacuation of German soldiers and refugees. Operation Hannibal was one such operation that helped around 1250000 Germans to flee the war zone by sea, turning it into one of the largest naval evacuations ever carried out in history.
Ruta Sepetys had tried to paint a picture of those brutal times in this book when everybody was trying to board the ships while the evacuation was being carried out through the eyes of 4 civilians. These few lines are the very plot of the book, and one can’t really express the emotions and the pitiable state those people were in; for that, you have to read the book, as the author has done a fabulous job in that! This is a typical Ruta Sepetys book where she tries to bring forth those events that are not really talked about, and there’s a high chance you are unaware that they ever happened in history! After reading her books, you’ll find yourself desperately researching to know more about those events. One of the striking features noticeable about her writing style is that she bluntly puts forward the statements. Yet, she manages to engage the emotional senses of the readers while educating them. Her stories are essentially character-driven, and your heart goes out to the characters. You can get the book here! 📖
We will update this article with more great historical fiction books as we read. You can share your suggestions with us in the comments as well. Happy reading!
This article contains affiliate links. BookWritten may earn a commission when you buy using these links.