Historical fiction has the power to transport its readers to other times and other places. From Nova Scotia to Ireland, from the 1600s to the Second World War, Colleen shares some Canadian historical fiction that’s sure to engross you.
Bride of New France, by Suzanne Desrochers
In 1669, two young Parisian women, Laure and Madeleine, are sent across the Atlantic to New France as filles du roi, or “daughters of the king”. This haunting first novel explores the challenges that a French girl faces coming into womanhood in a brutal time and place. From the moment she arrives, Laure is expected to marry and produce children with a brutish French soldier who can barely survive the harsh conditions of his forest cabin. But through her clandestine relationship with Deskaheh, an allied Iroquois, Laure discovers the possibilities of this New World.*
The Birth House, by Ami McKay
This novel is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine. The novel was a # 1 bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA Libris Awards, and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.*
The Wonder: a novel by Emma Donoghue
A small village in 1850s rural Ireland is baffled by Anna O’Donnell’s fast, which began as a self-inflicted and earnest expression of faith. After weeks of subsisting only on what she calls “manna from heaven,” the story of the “miracle” has reached a fever pitch. Tourists flock in droves to the O’Donnell family’s modest cabin hoping to witness, and an international journalist is sent to cover the sensational story. Enter Lib, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale who is hired to keep watch for two weeks and determine whether or not Anna is a fraud. As Anna deteriorates, Lib finds herself responsible not just for the care of a child, but for getting to the root of why the child may actually be the victim of murder in slow motion.
A magnetic novel written with all the spare and propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, The Wonder works beautifully on many levels—a simple tale of two strangers who will transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil in its many masks.*
Wild Rose, by Sharon Butala
Sophie was a sheltered girl from a well-off Montreal family in the 1880’s when she married hastily and went off to sparsely-populated southern Saskatchewan to begin her married life as a homesteader. Before long she is abandoned by her husband and desperately struggling to survive with her young son. Sharon Butala has been writing contemporary novels set on the prairies for over 30 years; this is her first historical novel.
The Winter Sea , by Susanna Kearsley (alternate title “Sophia’s Secret)
Writer Carolyn McClelland is staying in a seaside cottage on the east coast of Scotland, where she is working on a book about the attempted Jacobite invasion of 1707. Inexplicably drawn to Slains Castle, and not so inexplicably drawn to the charming, but somehow familiar, Stuart Keith, Carolyn is soon writing with an unusual speed and imagery which leads her to wonder whether her ‘fictional’ character of Sophia is really so fictional after all. Carolyn soon realises that she is somehow channelling the memories of her distant relative and that her story has a life of its own.*
Nightfall Over Shanghai, by Daniel Kalla
Local emergency doctor Daniel Kalla has written a terrific series about the Jewish community in Shanghai, China. Starting in The Far Side of The Sky, after fleeing the Nazi takeover in Austria, the Adler family ends up in Japanese-occupied Shanghai to begin a new life. Shanghai-born Sunny joins their family and through the two sequels, Rising Sun, Falling Shadow and Nightfall Over Shanghai, they endure loss and hardship through to 1945 when at last they hope to live freely once again. There is talk of a movie and/or television series based on this trilogy and I can even see an opening for a fourth book.
* from the publisher’s description