Halloween Reading! The Ghost Bride – by Yangsze Choo

As I noted in my prior post, The Night Tiger, I enjoyed that book so much that I committed to reading Ms. Choo’s earlier debut novel, The Ghost Bride. Here she also spins an enchanting yarn inspired by multiple streams of history, folklore, religious worldview and mystery.

Although set in 1898 British Colonial Malaya, much The Ghost Bride takes place in a mythical afterlife.

Of the two novels, I prefer The Night Tiger. However, I come away from The Ghost Bride in awe of Ms. Choo’s imaginative storytelling skill. She draws

The Ghost Bride has a stronger fantasy element—spends more time in unearthly realms. At a few points the plot nearly lost me. But I hung on and am glad I did.

The Night Tiger felt more like magical realism; anchored in the physical world but with excursions into the afterlife and folklore. The telling felt tighter, the story clearer.

Most importantly, I am now officially a fan of Ms. Choo. I will anxiously await anything she produces. As noted, her imagination makes me want to cheer.

You can find full reviews of The Ghost Bride here and here.

Samarkand and The Rock of Tanios by Amin Maalouf

Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese-born author, began as a newspaperman in his native Beirut then moved to France at the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war.

The Rock of Tanios:
This book led me through a time and place for which I had no prior knowledge even though part of my Work in Progress moves through the same geography. Twelve hundred years pass between my subject and the world of Maalouf’s novel and yet I enjoyed the immersion into 1830s Lebanese mountain village life. This story of personal passion, murder and fateful decisions slowly expands to involve the wider political context—when Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, England and France vied for control of the region. All new territory for me.

Samarkand:
My old interest in early medieval Central Asia drew me to this book. How could I pass up a story set in 11th century Samarkand? More, please!

As with The Rock of Tanios, this dual time-period novel introduced me to epochs of history to which I’d had little prior exposure: the life of Omar Khayyam during the Seljuk Empire and the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1907.

Again, some of my Work in Progress is set in Persia but five hundred years before any of the events included here.

But this is the attraction of reading historical fiction from off the beaten path. It opens up new adventures and the chance to see the world through another’s experience. Some say that stories help us develop empathy. They also help us understand ourselves.

 

You can find summaries and reviews of The Rock of Tanios here and here.
You can find summaries and reviews of Samarkand here and here.

 

Afterward—Long after I’d read these two novels, I realized that the author is one and the same with that of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes—the book I read way back in the early ‘90s which had such a strong effect on me. It was, in fact, one of the sparks which ignited my own slow movement towards my Work In Progress.

You can find summaries and reviews of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes here and here.

And the Winner is . . .

Another Man Booker Prize winner for historical fiction!

Eleanor Catton of New Zealand has won the coveted prize for fiction with her 832-page The Luminaries. A murder mystery set in 1866 New Zealand, this one meets our Long Ago and Far Away particulars.

The book is available in the US as of this week.

At 28 years old, Ms. Catton is the youngest Man Booker prize winner.

You can read articles about the book, Ms Catton and the prize here:

http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/23171771-421/eleanor-catton-wins-fictions-booker-prize.html

http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-eleanor-catton-luminaries-2013-man-booker-prize-20131015,0,3236824.story

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.

28 New Long Ago & Far Away Reading Options

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 list:

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

20th 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

Multi-period:

Lighthouse Bay – Kimberley Freeman – Australia

The Age of Ice – J.M. Sidorova – Russia

Paranormal/Fantasy:

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.