The best historical fiction by diverse women

The Books I Picked & Why

The Time of the Doves

By Mercè Rodoreda, David H. Rosenthal

Book cover of The Time of the Doves

Why this book?

The Time of the Doves is one of my favorite books of all time for its intimacy, immediacy, and unusual descriptive power. Natalia, a young woman living in Barcelona around the time of the Spanish Civil war, paints for the reader a vivid and seamless picture of her life from the inside out—her loves and losses, survival, the confusion of a world broken by chaos and violence and put back together again by perseverance and tenderness. A short but unforgettable read that I return to again and again.


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Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

Book cover of Pachinko

Why this book?

The research and imagination that went into the world-building of this book are breathtaking, from the events that shape the lives of three generations of a Korean family living in Japan, to what they wore, ate, saw around them, and how they responded to immense hardship with skill, creativity, and determination. Pachinko illuminates for the reader a rich and specific pocket of history, that also speaks to the universal struggle of marginalized people everywhere.


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The Night Watchman

By Louise Erdrich

Book cover of The Night Watchman

Why this book?

The Night Watchman is another feat of world-building and story, based on the life and community of the author’s extraordinary Chippewa-Cree grandfather, (called Thomas Wazhushk in the book), who led the fight against genocidal government legislation that would have destroyed his tribe. The motley cast of characters–not least Thomas’ young niece Patrice–will both steal and break your heart, with each one living and breathing their powerful heritage in a unique, yet unified way.


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The Price of Salt: Or Carol

By Patricia Highsmith

Book cover of The Price of Salt: Or Carol

Why this book?

The Price of Salt (also titled Carol), Highsmith’s groundbreaking lesbian love story from 1952, is another work that brings to light lives hidden by the status-quo telling of history. Told from the hyperreal point of view of 19-year-old Therese, this love story is tender and intimate, even as it is threatened from all sides by a culture that punished lesbians with devastating consequences. Further, it is a story written without shame, and, remarkably, with a happy ending (rather than the tragic ending required at that time)—making it a radical work of resilience and resistance.


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The Complete Claudine: Claudine at School/Claudine in Paris/Claudine Married/Claudine and Annie

By Colette, Antonia White

Book cover of The Complete Claudine: Claudine at School/Claudine in Paris/Claudine Married/Claudine and Annie

Why this book?

Each of the five books in my list either stars or co-stars a young woman, and The Complete Claudine, as the title would suggest, is not an exception. Colette’s Claudine is a mesmerizing character—sensual, passionate, fierce, and tender by turns. The ordinary twists and turns of Claudine’s turn-of-the-century life in the French countryside and Paris are made extraordinary by her uncommon self-possession and power of observance. Claudine fairly blisters off the page.


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