All tagged Historical Fiction

Guest Post: Author Melanie Crowder on Writing History in Verse

You know we love verse novels here at Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, so it's no wonder that Melanie Crowder's historical novel in verse is one we're all looking forward to.

Here's the summary:

The inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

A gorgeously told novel in verse written with intimacy and power, Audacity is inspired by the real-life story of Clara Lemlich, a spirited young woman who emigrated from Russia to New York at the turn of the twentieth century and fought tenaciously for equal rights. Bucking the norms of both her traditional Jewish family and societal conventions, Clara refuses to accept substandard working conditions in the factories on Manhattan's Lower East Side. For years, Clara devotes herself to the labor fight, speaking up for those who suffer in silence. In time, Clara convinces the women in the factories to strike, organize, and unionize, culminating in the famous Uprising of the 20,000. 

Powerful, breathtaking, and inspiring, Audacity is the story of a remarkable young woman, whose passion and selfless devotion to her cause changed the world.

I'm happy to welcome Melanie to the blog--she's going to share a bit about the unique opportunity to translate history through verse novels. 

Going Over by Beth Kephart: Is Beautiful Writing Enough?

‘Be careful, Ada.’ Of course I’m careful. I’m in love. 

What can I tell you, what should you know? There is a line between us, a wall. It is wide as a river; it has teeth. It is barbed and trenched and tripped and lit and piped and meshed and bricked—155 kilometers of wrong.

Despite Beth Kephart being a highly-regarded YA author (and finalist for the National Book Award), I had not picked up one of her books prior to her most recent, Going Over. 

The writing in Going Over is excellent, and I can see why Kephart's novels are so highly regarded. With that said, the beautiful writing at times out-shined the storytelling and in some respects got in the way of Going Over's narrative. 

Because the wall does not belong to West Berlin, and neither does the ground where I stand when I’m painting. I am a public enemy, a property defacer. I am an artist in love with a boy.

As is popular at the moment, Going Over adopts the dual narrator style, with half of the story being told from the first-person perspective of Ada, who lives in 1980s West Berlin. She paints graffiti by night and dreams of her Stefan, son of her grandmother's friend who lives in East Berlin, "going over" the wall so the young couple can be together once and for all. 

The second point-of-view is that of Stefan.

You have to wait. You have to be absolutely sure. Love is the biggest thing, of course. But there are other considerations.

But, rather than first person, it's in a second person style, creating a distance from Stefan's perspective.

A Unique Historical Novel - The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

As I mentioned when I wrote about Jennifer Donnelly’s wonderful A Northern Light, I love the idea of historical novels, but I often struggle to enjoy them. I’m incredibly picky about historical fiction, so I was thrilled to discover Natalie Standiford’s The Boy on the Bridge. 

Set in 1982 Leningrad (St. Petersburg to you kids) in what was then known as the USSR (Russia to you kids), The Boy on the Bridge chronicles main character Laura’s semester abroad (she’s a Russian major at Brown). She lives in a horrible barracks-style dormitory known as Dorm 6, and takes classes in Russian language and literature.

They’re constantly monitored, eat horrible food and live a fairly sparse life, though it’s far beyond the standards of most Russians. When they first arrived in Leningrad, Laura and the rest of the students are warned to avoid relationships with the locals, as they are seen as targets for young people wanting to get out of the USSR. Marriage to a foreigner is the easiest, most accessible, way out of the Soviet Union, so college students like Laura, looking for adventure are good prospects for a ticket out. 

Through what seems like a chance meeting on a bridge near her dorm, Laura meets Alyosha (he’s named Alexei, but doesn’t use that name), a 22-year old artist employed in a “make-work” job painting scenes from movies on posters at theaters. He suggests that the two spend time together so that they can practice each other’s languages, and Laura and Alyosha quickly become embroiled in a whirlwind romance—a romance with an end-date, since Laura is only in Leningrad for the semester. As Laura becomes immersed in Alyosha’s world, she begins to wonder if there’s a way they can have a future, if she can give him a better life in America. 

The Boy on the Bridge is beautifully historical and rooted in the time.

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Z is not a book for everyone.

It is a novel based on research about Zelda Fitzgerald and her life and relationship with her husband, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fowler states at the end of her work that it is,

Fiction based on real people [which] differs from nonfiction in that the emphasis is not on factual minutiae, but rather on the emotional journey of the characters. I've tried to create the most plausible story possible, based upon all the evidence at hand.

The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's famous novel depicting the obsessive Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy, is a novel I've always loved. The writing flows like a poem swirling with color, description, romance and tragedy. I do not read it as a love story, rather it’s about illusion. Illusory dreams without a touch of reality based in Gatsby’s head much as Zelda’s life with F. Scott.

Fowler’s account of Zelda’s life brought a new perspective to ponder. 

Historical Fiction Done Right - A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I've been doing a lot of reading lately that doesn't really feel necessitates a formal review. This is partially because I intentionally don't read all books with reviewing in mine. When I plan on reviewing a book, I stop, take notes, highlight, all that stuff. At the pace I read, that's overwhelming to do that for each and every book.

However, sometimes I still want to share my thoughts on ​some of these books.

That's the long way of my saying that this isn't a "review" of Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light. Instead, it's more a few impressions of why this historical novel worked for me when so many others have not. 

The crux of the story set in 1906 upstate New York (around Utica and Cortland, in the Adirondacks) and centers around two converging stories. The first is 16-year old Mattie's life on a farm, where her aspirations of a bookish life and college in New York City collide with the economic realities of caring for her sisters and helping her father on the farm, as well as the expectations for a girl her age to marry and establish a household. The second story is a mystery around the death of young woman staying at the hotel where Mattie works who's body is found in ​the lake. (This is drawn from real events, and also inspired the Book An American Tragedy and the film A Place in the Sun.)

A number of things distinguished A Northern Light for me, but the aspect that stands out the most is the approach to placing the novel in its historical context.

Requiem Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. JeneczkoLiterature’s power lies in its ability to bring depth, immediacy and empathy through the words and into the heart. Images of the Holocaust haunt anyone who has seen black and white reels and photographs of the horror, the reality of an era that must never be forgotten.

Paul B. Jeneczko’s Requiem Poems of the Terezin Ghetto stands as a requiem to the people who lived, suffered, endured, died and carried the inhumanity of a shameful period in their hearts and literally tattooed to their arms, a number never to be diminished.

Terezin was originally a fortress town in Czechoslovakia. Hitler and his fellow Nazis turned it into, in their euphemistic terms, a collection and transport camp for the Jewish people. The original residents were “transported” out, and the Jewish prisoners began arriving.

The Nazi regime purported that was “a home for Jewish intellectuals and artists.” In truth it was a propaganda tool for the Third Reich. In the midst of the horrors of captivity there were musical performances, lectures and other artistic endeavors.

The reality was a different tale, one of woe.

Musicians who performed beautifully one night were packed into cattle cars the next, transported to the gas chambers. [They] …played as only the heartbroken can play.

Charlotte Rogan’s much-hyped debut, The Lifeboat, is one of my biggest reading disappointments of the year. 

And I feel like a complete jackass for saying that. Rogan has a wonderful story of writing for years and years before The Lifeboat was published and in a publishing climate where precocious twenty-somethings are getting all sorts of attention, it’s wonderful to see someone’s dream of being a published novelist become a reality after years of work on her craft.

However, with its singular focus on Big Questions About Morality, I was left wanting more of everything: plot, character development, tension.