Best-of-2010 Megalist: Historical Fiction

In previous posts, I’ve highlighted the most lauded books (as compiled from my best-of-2010 Megalist) from general fiction, narrative nonfiction, and biographies and memoirs. Today, let’s look at the 2010 works of historical fiction that have received the most praise. I have a broad interpretation of most genres, but the historical era in all of these novels, the historical setting is important.

1. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell (31 votes to date)

The title character is sent to Japan in 1799 to investigate fraud charges against some of his colleagues in the Dutch East Indies Company. When he gets there, he finds illicit love, a complex web of corruption, perverse religious rites, culture clash, and rousing adventure.

2. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes (25 votes to date)

A Vietnam veteran himself, Marlantes brings the horrors of that war to life in his debut novel, a thirty-year effort of love. Marine lieutenant Waino Mellas leads a vivid platoon of Bravo company soldiers as they fortify, lose, and then reclaim the title hill. This highly detailed account has already been praised by many as the best Vietnam War novel ever.

3. The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer (20 votes to date)

Orringer’s debut is another war epic, an account of a set designer and a ballet instructor whose love affair is caught up in the tragedy of 1930s Budapest.  Politics, war, and the Holocaust all intervene in this tale of a romance and a family shattered by the forces of history.

4. Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey (19 votes to date)

Carey plays with the story of Alexis de Tocqueville in this tale of a spoiled French aristocrat and his long-suffering servant, sent to America to protect Olivier from the consequences of his political involvements. Their farcical encounters with the rough democracy of Andrew Jackson’s America change their relationship, which in turn reflects the social climate of the U.S.

5 (tie). C, by Tom McCarthy (14 votes to date)

Difficult to classify and cryptic, McCarthy’s book concerns Serge Carrefax, raised in an early 1900s school for the deaf where his father experiments with telegraph and radio. The story follows Serge through the Great War, drug addiction, and a mystic tryst in an Egyptian tomb. The result is panoramic and puzzling, a dense novel for readers who like a challenge.

5 (tie). The Surrendered, by Chang-Rae Lee (14 votes to date)

June, a refugee of the Korean War; Hector, an American G.I. who takes her to an orphanage and then stays on;  and Sylvie, the wife of the minister who runs the orphanage are the main characters in Lee’s novel, which follows them through the horrors of the war and its sad aftermath.

7. Nemesis, by Philip Roth (12 votes to date)

In Roth’s latest, Bucky Cantor fights against, but ultimately flees the polio epidemic that decimates the playground he directs in 1944 Newark. Fate follows him to the Poconos, where he goes to work with his girlfriend at a summer camp. Jumping to 1971, Bucky tells the story of his shattered life to one of the playground survivors.

8. The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis (10 votes to date)

Keith, an English college student, comes of age during a summer in an Italian castle during the sexually carefree year of 1970. The acerbic Amis mixes in looks at Keith’s later life and how it was affected by that summer of lust in this tragicomedy of manners.

9 (tie). Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett (9 votes to date)

After the success of Pillars of the Earth and its sequel, Follett tackles another big historical epic. This time he turns to the 20th century in the first fat book of a trilogy. The story follows five families from around the globe during the events of World War I.

9 (tie). The Wake of Forgiveness, by Bruce Machart (9 votes to date)

In 1910 Texas, a young Czech-American rides in a stakes race against his family’s neighbors, a powerful Spanish patriarch and his daughters. Massive amounts of land are on the line, and the results will have echoing effects down the years for young Karel and everyone else involved.

Visit my other blogging home, Blogging for a Good Book, to download the full 2010 Megalist, which now compiles 143 sources and 2,075 different books.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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