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Author: Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Circling the Sun and West With the Night

Circling the Sun and West With the Night

After I read Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, a historical novel based on the life of aviator Beryl Markham, I was curious about how it compared with Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, which Ernest Hemingway called “a bloody wonderful book.” West with the Night was first published in 1942, six years after Markham made her historic solo flight from east to west across the Atlantic. It is told in 24 essays which are not always in chronological order,…

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The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant

Told as a series of anecdotes from a Jewish grandmother, Addie Baum, to her granddaughter Ava, The Boston Girl is a coming-of-age story set in the early 1900s. Addie’s parents have fled an unnamed country in Europe, and Addie is the first child born in the United States. Her father and sister work in a sweatshop, and the family lives in a tenement. Addie’s parents expect her to leave school after 8th grade and start working. Central to the story…

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The Court Dancer, by Kyung-Sook Shin

The Court Dancer, by Kyung-Sook Shin

On the surface, The Court Dancer is a beautiful novel about a young woman, Jin, and her relationship with a Frenchman. Yet it is also so much more. It is about how the West views non-western peoples, and vice versa. It is about how a woman in a very traditional country transcends her circumscribed role. It is about the contrast between fascination with the exotic, and true love. It is about loyalty and self-determination. The novel takes place in the…

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Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring was inspired by the famous 17th century Vermeer painting of the same name. The novel takes place in the Dutch town of Delft. According to Tracy Chevalier’s web site, one day as she looked at the poster of the painting that hung in her bedroom, she thought to herself, “I wonder what Vermeer did to her to make her look like that. Now there’s a story worth writing.” From that thought, Chevalier created the character…

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The Widows, by Jess Montgomery

The Widows, by Jess Montgomery

I was looking forward to reading The Widows because it takes place in Ohio (my home state) and it involves Appalachian culture (which I’m interested in). And once I started to read it, I couldn’t put it down. One of the main characters in The Widows, Lily Ross, was inspired by the first female sheriff in Ohio (Maude Collins, pictured above, from the Vinton County web site). When Lily’s husband, the sheriff, is murdered in chapter 1, she is asked…

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The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

The Sleeping Dictionary is the engrossing story of a poor young orphan in India who, through her own intelligence and bravery, fights her way through tragedy and discrimination to earn a good living for herself and to help with India’s struggle for freedom from British rule. The title refers to Indian women who acted as translators for their British lovers. Sujata Massey is a journalist and mystery writer who makes use of her research skills and her personal connection (through…

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Sapphira and the Slave Girl, by Willa Cather

Sapphira and the Slave Girl, by Willa Cather

Sapphira and the Slave Girl is Willa Cather’s last novel, published in 1940. It takes place in 1856 in Back Creek, Virginia. Cather was born in Back Creek in 1873 and lived there for nine years, before moving with her family to Nebraska (the setting of some of her more famous books, such as My Antonia). Sapphira and the Slave Girl was inspired by stories that Cather heard in her childhood. When Sapphira Colbert married and moved from Winchester to…

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The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant

In The Red Tent, Anita Diamant has told the Old Testament story of Jacob through the eyes of the women in the family. The novel is narrated by Dinah, who is the only daughter of Jacob mentioned in the Bible. In Diamant’s version, Jacob’s wives (Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah) worship the ancient goddesses of the Mesopotamian religion, but they have no objection to Jacob’s god. First published in 1997, The Red Tent celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. The…

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Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench tells of four women slaves who travel with their masters each summer to Tawawa House, a resort in Ohio, a free state. For the women, it is a working vacation, where they have enough leisure to swim in the hot springs and take occasional short trips. Yet even as they are dressed prettily for a special dinner-dance with their masters, they cannot forget that they are slaves, each compelled to share her master’s bed and bear his children. The…

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Katherine, by Anya Seton

Katherine, by Anya Seton

Katherine, first published in 1954, is the story of Katherine Swynford, mistress and then wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. It takes place in England in the 1300s. Since I don’t know much British history, I looked up these two names. Katherine and John are ancestors to King Henry VII and to the current royal family. Katherine was, like many of Anya Seton’s novels, a bestseller when it was first published, and is still a well-known historical novel….

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