The Australian-American author Geraldine Brooks has written five works of outstanding historical fiction to date. She began her career as a journalist, working as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. In France, she met and married an American journalist and converted to Judaism. In addition to her novels, she has written three nonfiction books, two of them based on her years as a reporter. Her work has won several other literary awards in addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for March, her second novel.
The titles below are arranged in chronological order by the date of publication.
Year of Wonders (2001) – Geraldine Brooks’ outstanding novel about England and the Plague
In Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks tackles the familiar territory of the bubonic plague, adding great emotional depth to the reader’s understanding of its impact and the now-alien setting in which it appeared. Read this book, and you’ll gain a new appreciation of both the virtues and the failings of Christianity as practiced in 17th Century England, and you’ll understand the depths of ignorance and superstition that reigned among the overwhelming majority of people living a mere three centuries ago. Be forewarned: this is not the story of the Black Death of the 14th Century but of a later outbreak of the plague.
March (2005) – The untold tale of the absent father in “Little Women”
March tells the untold tale of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s 19th Century bestseller, Little Women. Mr. March is a passionately idealistic transcendentalist preacher in Concord, Massachusetts, a romanticized version of Alcott’s own famous father. At the advanced age of 39, he joins the Union Army as a chaplain soon after the cannons roar at Fort Sumter. During his time with the army, he encounters Grace, a beautiful and well-spoken liberated slave whom he had briefly known and lusted after more than 20 years earlier in the South. The plot of the novel revolves around the intersections of his life with Grace’s, revealing the unspoken truths of relationships between whites and blacks in the antebellum South, the racism that runs as deeply among Northern troops as Southern, and the sad consequences for March’s life. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
People of the Book (2008) – The strange story of the Sarajevo Haggadah
Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks will carry you on the eloquence of her prose through the five-century journey throughout Southern Europe of the fabled Sarajevo Haggadah. In Brooks’ hands, this remarkable example of the bookmaker’s art serves as a time machine, taking us from Seville in the late 15th Century, to Sarajevo and Sydney in the early 21st. More to the point, the Sarajevo Haggadah emerges in the pages of People of the Book as a brilliant symbol of reconciliation among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
Caleb’s Crossing (2011) – In Colonial America, the first Native American goes to Harvard
The year was 1660, the place an island now called Martha’s Vineyard. The “college at Newtowne” was a theological seminary across the bay much later named Harvard University. The college was then 24 years old and sported a student body of 33 young men. The following year a brilliant young Indian, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, matriculated as a student there. This brilliant historical novel tells the tale of Caleb’s “crossing” from his life as a chieftain’s son in the untamed expanse of what was then simply called “the island,” to the ranks of the educated elite in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Harvard’s first Indian graduate.
The Secret Chord (2015) – A biblical story, brilliantly retold
The King David story has been told not just in the Bible but countless other times over the three millennia since he reigned over Israel and Judah. Perhaps never before, though, has any author plumbed so deeply into the complex personality that comes to light from Biblical sources and told the tale so even-handedly of his life during the seventy years from birth to death.
For further reading
I’ve also read and reviewed a number of other outstanding historical novels. Among them are these:
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – This superb Pulitzer Prize-winner deserves the award it won;
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – A deeply affecting novel of the French Resistance; and
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – The Vietnam War through Vietnamese eyes.
If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
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