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Bring Your Book Club Alive With The Past (The best books shake off the nostalgia and disrupt )

Author: 3 February 2017 No Comment

Good historical fiction is more than what Man Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel, (Wolf Hall), calls “chicklit with a wimple.” The best books shake off the nostalgia and disrupt our penchant for taming the past.

The best books shake off the nostalgia and disrupt our penchant for taming the past!

Miss Jane by Brad Watson


In 1915, a child with a reproductive deformity, is born to a taciturn farm family in Mississippi. Baby Jane’s family has no choice but to receive the news “as they accepted crop failure.” Such a girl child will never marry nor breed.

But despite it all, Jane grows up a blithe spirit; insatiably curious about her world; especially on a farm. From the great oaks to her mother’s chickens, reproduction happens at a lush and dizzying speed. Jane’s mother and sister share a grim view of sex, but for Jane, it’s wondrous.

When she begs to go to school, incontinence, (a symptom of vaginal agenesis), makes it hard. Jane wears a thick diaper, and wills herself not to eat or drink all day in the event of an accident. But the teasing is unendurable – despite a brilliant scene where Jane’s teacher excoriates the bullies.

Jane grows into beauty and men notice. But God, “with his sly and untrustworthy balance of love and wrath,” intervenes. Doc Thompson, who delivered Jane, remains her rock. Over the years, he writes a colleague at Johns Hopkins, hoping to correct Jane’s deformity. By the time that happens, Jane is sixty. Pragmatism has replaced yearning.  But not Jane’s incandescent spirit.

Hauntingly beautiful, Miss Jane is the best book I read in 2016.



The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


Slave and “stray” both, fifteen-year-old Cora sparkles with instinct, curiosity, and a steely will to survive life on a Georgia plantation.

But once determined to escape to freedom, and after killing a young slave catcher, she and fellow slave, Caesar, head for the Underground Railroad.  There, they descend into the earth where a magical realm awaits. They board a northbound train on a rail system replete with track, tunnels, enigmatic conductors and some otherworldly abolitionists.

Yet it’s this very fanciful element that rationalizes Cora’s harrowing journey and makes Whitehead’s sixth novel terrifying and gorgeous.

How long will Cora, (and African Americans to this day), have to be a passenger on this train to freedom? Especially when hot on her trail is Ridgeway; a slave patroller focused only on Cora’s capture.



 News of the World by Paulette Jiles


In his silk topper, Captain Jefferson Kidd makes a modest living reading aloud from the world’s newspapers to packed saloons across North Texas.

Then he’s offered a fifty dollar gold piece to return a white child, (long a captive of the fierce Kiowa), to her family in San Antonio. He balks. In his seventies, he knows the journey is fraught with danger. Civil War deserters and Indian renegades roam the hill country.

Then there is the child herself who speaks no English and cannot stop grieving for her Kiowa parents. Passionately she wants to tell this white man that her name is “Cicada” and not “Johanna”.

Tender and exciting at every turn, Jiles’ tale canters along – just the right pace for these two lost souls.

(best books, best books, best books)

Aimee Zuccarini

Howard County Library-