A Look Through Time: 10 Most Influential Historical Novels

Reading is one of the great joys of life and has been for centuries. For many, reading offers the opportunity to temporarily escape your world and to be immersed in someone else’s. But, reading provides a lot more than just escapism. Reading teaches you things without you even realising it.

This is even truer in the case of historical novels, which are designed to teach and inform through the medium of story-telling. Over the course of history, there have been a number of influential historical novels that have gripped the souls of the nation.

Here are a few to add to your reading list.

1. Wild Swans, Jung Chang

Chairman Mao was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of Chinese people during his reign in the late 1950s and 1960s. Wild Swans is a detailed account of the horrors of Mao’s regime told through the eyes of a Chinese woman. She starts the novel be relaying the story of her grandmother, and then continues with her mother’s story, and then finally her own.

While the book pays attention to intimate details of the women’s lives, such as love affairs and family issues, the world outside is constantly changing and forms the context for a lot of what happens to these women.


2. If This Is a Man, Primo Levi

The Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies in modern history and no one quite captures its harrowing details like Primo Levi. As an Auschwitz survivor, Levi is well placed to give an accurate account of exactly what went on in the camp. His novel describes daily life in Auschwitz and the measures that were taken by each individual to survive.

Yet, what seems like an “every man for himself” mentality in the camp is broken down and deconstructed as Levi shows the astonishing level of humanity that the prisoners maintained. This novel shows exactly what humans are capable of – for better or worse.

Image via Bard College

3. The True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey

One of the most notorious outlaws in Australia, the story of Ned Kelly and his gang needed to be told – and who better to tell it than Peter Carey, a master of storytelling. The novel is extraordinarily well written, peppered with Australian slang to create a very convincing autobiographical effect.

The book follows Ned Kelly from his infancy through to his eventual demise and shows how he rose in estimation to become a local hero.

Image via eCRATER

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