Seek refuge from the present moment by wandering into the pasts brought to life in this collection of six historical fictions. Augustus, the epistolary novel from the great John Williams, is a swirling mosaic of voices that coalesce into a complex portrait of the Roman Empire’s first ruler. Not only did Augustus win a National Book Award, The Washington Post deemed it “the finest historical novel ever written by an American.”
With Thomas Flanagan’s poetic novel The Year of the French, find your bearings in western Ireland, 1798—where Wolfe Tone is about to launch his tragic insurgency against British rule. Then, step out of the course of recorded history and into Simon Leys’ ironically titled novel, The Death of Napoleon. In this clever counter-history, Napoleon escapes St. Helena and makes his way back onto the continent. Many mishaps ensue in this sweetly tragic story of a man fallen from ultimate power. For an equally playful but far darker read, there is Hans Herbert Grimm’s Schlump, an anti-war classic that follows a bright young rascal to the gruesome trenches of the Great War.
In J.G. Farrell’s charmingly sad novel Troubles, it’s 1919 and Major Brendan Archer has returned to Ireland and to his fiancée’s business, the now-disintegrating Majestic Hotel. This heartbreaking tale of irremediable chaos is richly textured with the signs of a decaying British Empire. Finally, enter the teeming world of Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy. At center are Guy and Harriet Pringle, who arrive in Bucharest just in time to flee from the Nazis to Greece. Olivia Manning’s novel is a striking depiction of how history flows through, and ruptures, our private lives.