Continued on p. 35
ing the city’s women. Patrick, one of Hadriana’s
many young admirers, narrates much of the novel,
imbuing it with a touch of
nostalgia and wistfulness not
just for the woman now deposed but also for Jacmel, the
city he loves. For as Hadriana becomes a zombie and
lingers on, it is hard not to
wonder if her devastating fate is not applicable
to Jacmel itself, a town ravaged by hurricanes and extreme poverty. By contrasting
Haitian vodou with traditional Christianity,
and pitting color and class lines against each
other, Depestre presents a rich and nuanced
exploration of large and significant themes
expertly couched in one fantastical, expertly
translated tale. —Poornima Apte
The House at Bishopsgate.
By Katie Hickman.
May 2017. 448p. Bloomsbury, $27 (9781608199457).
Hickman’s latest continues the series of novels following Paul and Celia Pindar (The Aviary
Gate, 2008, The Pindar Diamond, 2010), a
merchant and his wife living in the Mediterranean in the early seventeenth century. After
years away from England, Paul and Celia return to a home and a life that are unfamiliar to
them both. They bring with them the Sultan’s
Blue, a diamond said to have magical properties. In their new home, with new expectations,
Celia hosts society ladies for visits and feels out
of place. Paul searches for his missing friend,
John Carew, and struggles with his relationships with Celia and his brother Rafe. Paul
and Celia rely heavily on Frances Sydenham,
a widow who assists in household operations
and who seems to have an agenda of her own.
When Celia’s friend Annetta arrives from Venice, the household tensions reach a dramatic
peak. With so many plotlines and rich detail,
the novel feels unfocused and slow at times.
This historical novel with elements of fantasy
is a complex story about marriage, friendship,
and desire. —Laura Chanoux
By Amelia Gray.
May 2017. 368p. Farrar, $26 (9780374279981).
Historical novels about artists abound, but
few attain the psychological intricacy, fluency
of imagination, lacerating wit, or intoxicating beauty of Gray’s tale of Isadora Duncan,
to return to the essence of dance, performing her flowing choreography barefoot and
in gossamer tunics. Isadora is in Paris in
The best historical novels reviewed in Booklist between April 15, 2016, and April 1, 2017, engage with solid subjects—the Civil War,
Wounded Knee, WWII, the Khmer Rouge—and maintain period authenticity and psychological intensity while, in some cases, venturing
into the surreal and wondrous. —Donna Seaman
Barkskins. By Annie Proulx. 2016. Scribner, $32 (9780743288781).
Proulx’s woodland saga begins in the seventeenth century with
the clash between European settlers and Native Americans and tells
the dramatic stories of generations of individuals who either loved or
destroyed North America’s vast verdant forests.
The Bones of Paradise. By Jonis Agee. 2016. Morrow, $25.99
Agee’s haunting family tale, set in Nebraska just after the massacre
at Wounded Knee, in 1890, follows the struggles of two families, one
white, the other Lakota, as they face loss, guilt, and vengeance.
The Book of Harlan. By Bernice J. McFadden. 2016. Akashic, $29.95
Harlan leads a fairly routine life as a young black musician in Jazz
Age Harlem; then he and his close friend are invited to perform in
Paris, where they get entangled with the Third Reich’s brutality.
The Gustav Sonata. By Rose Tremain. 2016. Norton, $26.95
In Tremain’s nuanced novel, Gustav, a Swiss kindergartner in
1948, displeases his mother when he befriends Anton, a Jewish
classmate, launching a profound exploration of the cost of remaining neutral both personally and politically.
The Hamilton Affair. By Elizabeth Cobbs. 2016. Arcade, $25.99 (9781628727203).
Cobbs’ finely tuned fictional biography of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s most
intriguing founders, with an emphasis on his marriage to the beautiful, vivacious Elizabeth
Schuyler, is tempestuous and sensational.
Huck out West. By Robert Coover. 2017. Norton, $26.95 (9780393608441).
Coover brilliantly envisions what comes next when Huckleberry Finn lights out for the
territories, hitting the highs and lows of the Wild West and nailing Mark Twain’s tone,
deadpan dark humor, and social commentary.
Lincoln in the Bardo. By George Saunders. 2017. Random, $28 (9780812995343).
Anchored to a poignant historical moment—the death of President Abraham Lincoln’s
young son, Willie—Saunders’ boldly imagined, funny, and exquisitely sensitive novel is
downright surreal in its cemetery-set action and ghostly cast.
Music of the Ghosts. By Vaddey Ratner. 2017. Touchstone, $26 (9781476795782).
Ratner, herself a Cambodian refugee, tells a haunting tale of the legacy of the Khmer
Rouge horrors through the lives of 13-year-old Teera and her aunt, who flee after their
village is destroyed.
The Underground Railroad. By Colson Whitehead. 2016. Doubleday, $26.95
In Whitehead’s commanding and imaginative novel, smart and resourceful Cora flees
a Georgia cotton plantation only to discover, on each stop along an actual Underground
Railroad running in tunnels beneath Southern soil, yet another horrific variation on racial
tyranny. Winner of the 2017 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
The Wonder. By Emma Donoghue. 2016. Little, Brown, $27 (9780316393874).
In Donoghue’s psychologically powerful novel, it’s 1859, and English nurse Lib Wright
is trying to determine if Anna O’Donnell, an 11-year-old girl in an Irish village, truly hasn’t
eaten for four months or if this “extraordinary wonder” is nothing more than a scam.
TOP 10 HISTORICAL FICTION