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Fiction Featuring Real People

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Every couple of months, I join my counterparts from various suburban libraries for a “roundtable” discussion of books and reading.  We all read on a theme, and this past month it was “Fiction Featuring Real People.”  While some novels are fictionalized accounts of a person’s life, others use history as a setting for an original story. We noted that we frequently turn to print or online historical sources to verify how much liberty the author took with what “really” happened. Most of us agreed that although we are willing to forgive literary license in the name of storytelling, accuracy is still important. We dislike obvious anachronisms or blatantly wrong facts that might have been avoided with a little research.  Here is a sampling of the books that we discussed:

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff: The history of polygamy in the Mormon Church intertwines with the story of Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young,

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland: The story of Clara, the woman behind many of Tiffany’s lamp designs.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks:  Brooks’ latest work of historical fiction is based on the life of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir: Weir paints a portrait of the life of Elizabeth I before she became queen.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin: Mid-nineteenth-century little person Mercy Levinia Warren Bump comes of age in the antebellum south before being invited to join the P. T. Barnum circus.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: The author recreates Hadley Hemingway’s tumultuous relationship with husband Ernest in 1920s Paris.

 -- Lori S., Reader Services