Tag Archives: historical fiction

Italians Without Wine and Olive Oil

Olive oil being pouredIf you write historical fiction, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin’s essay at the end of “Lavinia” about the research she did writing the book, a retelling of the Aeneid, and the choices she made about how to portray life before the Roman Empire. Here’s an excerpt:

Like Vergil, I call the towns of the Bronze Age cities, and their people probably saw them as cities, but to us they might look like a walled or stockaded huddle of huts around a fort. Their people went out into the fields to herd sheep, goats, and cattle, and plant and tend barley and emmer wheat and vegetables, fruit and nut trees. They probably had no cotton or linen yet; the women carded, spun, and wove wool into the togas and pallas they wore (not all that different from a sari). It’s possible that they knew only wild vines and the inedible wild olive, and couldn’t afford to buy wine or olive oil from the Etruscans, who by then may have had them. But I couldn’t imagine Italians without wine and olive oil. If it’s any excuse, neither could Vergil.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Thanks for Nothin’, Newsweek. And 5 Favorite Historical Fictions.

Newsweek recently featured Booker winner Hilary Mantel’s five favorite historical novels. Sadly–or happily, depending on how you look at it–I hadn’t heard of all but one of them. More books to add to the “maybe read” list!

But the magazine sort of pissed me off by saying that Mantel “elevates the field [of historical fiction] with her new book ‘Bring Up the Bodies.'”

OK, first it’s annoying to introduce a writer’s favorite books by implying she’s better than them. (Obviously, it’s Newsweek not Mantel I’m griping about.)

Second, Mantel lists “Things Fall Apart” as one of her picks. So obviously, the field needs no elevation.

Third, I can name offhand two Nobel laureates who’ve written historical fiction. So I’ll repeat: Obviously, the field needs no elevation.

Whatever. Here’s a list of some of the novels I love that happen to be historical:

  1. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  2. “The General in His Labyrinth” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  3. “Away” by Amy Bloom
  4. “The Known World” by Edward P. Jones
  5. “In the Skin of a Lion” by Michael Ondaatje