10 Favourite Historical Fiction

So, with this week’s topic at The Broke and Bookish being Top Ten Favourite Book of X Genre, I decided to go with historical fiction that I have loved. So, in no particular order of preference the follow:

1. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Llew Wallace
Set in Jerusalem during the time of Christ. It’s a beautiful tale of a young man who is wrongly accused of a crime and is sent to die in the galleys. But he survives the harsh sentence when he saves a Roman commander, and he is finally given the opportunity to avenge his name and that of his family. However, we see a change in him as the people around him are stirred up by the hope that the Messiah has come and will finally overcome the Romans and set Israel in the seat of power.

2. A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (a brief review)
This story is set in Word War II Portugal and in the Portugal of the 1990s. Two different generations, each told with a different voice — one with a sense of a dark fairy tale, while the other is deeply rooted in the restless youthful voices of the ’90s. It’s a very well-told narrative.

3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (my thoughts)
This novel has three parts. It was the last one that clinched it for me. Set during the time of the French Revolution, Dickens brings out the underlying tension and currents of the time so powerfully (and historians say more accurately than is major resource material by Thomas Carlyle). The romance was typical Dickensian mush, and this book would have faded away from memory had it not been for Part 3.

4. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (my review)
Another story set during the French Revolution. It begins, “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” Quite the beginning, isn’t it? It’s a fantastic, swashbuckling tale.

5. Shadow of the Moon by M. M. Kaye
This is an epic love story set during the time of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny (now know as the First Indian War of Independence) of 1857. It’s an absolute favourite. While it’s been written by an English woman, it has obviously been written with love for the land and its people.

6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (a brief character analysis)
Beautifully epic! Scarlett and Melanie are such amazing, breath-taking women. And as I know close to nothing about American Civil War history, this was quite the novel experience.

7. Dance the Moon Down by R. L. Bertram (my review)
I will always be grateful that the author approached me with this book. It is set in England during World War 1 and tells the story of how the women left at home became the backbone of the country and managed to survive the running of things while their men were out fighting the war. Lyrical writing with strong female characters and a solid story line.

8. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
This one is set in the late 19th to early 20th century Japan. It follows the tale of Chiyo Sakamoto who is sold as a young girl and finds herself in training to be a Geisha. We plunged into a story of beautiful, unhappy women, and a secret longing with such picturesque language that brings out the history and the culture of the time this novel is based in.

9. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini (my review)
This is a swashbuckling adventure of the high seas set during the mid-1600s. Peter Blood is a surgeon who is wrongfully accused of treason and is shipped off to the Indies to be a slave. He escapes and becomes a pirate. Jolly good fun with a nicely complex character in Peter Blood.

10. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (underrated; under-appreciated)
This one has its setting in Regency England when Napoleon Bonaparte was on a rampage. But the story is really about two magicians and their rivalry. One is a theoretical magician while the other is a practicing one, and there is much debate and contention over this fact. The novel is a thick volume of over 1000 pages, and is chockfull with footnotes on ‘magical’ history and the fae. Oh yes…there is a strong, eerie vein of the faery that runs through this novel.

Honorary Mention
11. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (a brief character sketch)
My first ever book on the French Revolution. I read it back in the 9th Grade and loved Percy Blakeney. It’s a swashbuckling romance, of course!

Basho’s response to a loyal band of warriors.

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Yasuhira’s castle stands beyond the Koromo Barrier, seemingly to protect the Nanbu gateway from invasion by the Ainu. There at Takadachi, Yoshitsune and a chosen band of loyal men tried to entrench themselves – but their heroic actions turned in the twinkling of an eye to nothing more than clumps of grass:

The country is destroyed; yet mountains and rivers remain. Spring comes to the castle; the grass is green again.

With my hat as a seat, and these lines running through my head, I stayed there weeping till time seemed no more.

mounds of summer grass –
the place where noble soldiers
one time dreamed a dream

in deutzia flowers
Kanefusa seems to me –
oh, such white, white hair (Sora)

— The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho (transltd. by Tim Chilcott)

Matsushima: a beautiful archipelago

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No matter how often it has been said, Matsushima is the most beautiful place in all Japan, and can easily hold its own against T’ung-t’ing or the Western Lake in China. The sea surges in from the southeast into a bay seven miles across, its waters brimming full like the Zhejiang River in China. There are more islands than anyone could count. Some rise up steeply, as through thrusting towards the skies; some are flat, and seem to crawl on their stomachs into the waves. Some seem piled double, or even three layers high. To the left, they appear separate; to the right, joined together. Some look as if they carried others on their backs, and some as if they held them in their arms, like a parent caring for a little child or grandchild. The pines are of the deepest green, and their branches, constantly buffeted by the winds from the sea, seem to have acquired a twisted shape quite naturally. The scene suggests the serene charm of a lovely woman’s face. Matsushima truly might have been created by Ōyamazumi [God of the Mountains] in the Great Age of the Gods. What painter or what writer could ever capture fully the wonder of this masterpiece of nature?

— The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho (transltd. by Tim Chilcott)

The Classics Tag

I read this tag over at Jillian’s, who in turn had been tagged by Shannon of Reflections of a Reader. I liked it, so I’ve decided to post it here at Breadcrumbs.

Question #1: an overhyped classic you really didn’t like

Hands down, this ‘honour’ goes to Wuthering Heights. This is one book I haven’t been able to read completely. I have tried picking it up many times. I have puzzled over the fact that people love this book which is considered a great romance. And I still absolutely cannot stand it — not the writing, not the story, not the characters. ‘didn’t like’ is a bit too nice to describe how I feel about this book.

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Question #2: favourite time period to read about

The French Revolution!

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Storming of the Tuileries Palace by Jacques Bertaux-Prise

My interest in this period was piqued ever since I first read The Scarlet Pimpernel, and a few other books in the series. Whilst I cannot say I am passionate about the period (I don’t think I am passionate about anything really), it is a period that fascinates me. I have read a few essays on and from that period in France. And as I have the tendency to read books from the Georgian era in England, there is quite a bit of the French Revolution spilling over into these books as well.

Question #3: Favourite fairytale

The Goose Girl. I’m not sure why, but this was one Grimm’s fairy tale that I loved reading from my giant book of fairytales. I suppose the illustration had a lot to do with it. I also have to mention Donkey Skin. It creeped me out quite a bit, but still fascinated me.

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I still own this!

Question #4: What is the classic you are most embarrassed about not having read?

I don’t know that I am embarrassed about not having read a book. The way I see it, if I feel like it, I will pick it up and read it. If it doesn’t interest me I will keep it aside. Instead I shall mention a classic I would really like to read, but keep putting off for another day.

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Paradise Lost by John Milton

Question #5: Top 5 classics you would like to read soon.

I’m not particularly interested in reading anything soon, but the top 5 I would like to read are these:

Paradise Lost
The Robe
Beowulf
Mere Christianity
Three Men on the Bummel

Question #6: favourite modern book / series based on a classic

So it turns out I haven’t read any modern adaptations of classics. And to be honest, when I know a book is an adaptation I don’t touch it. Twice I let my guard down, and both times I was put off. No more! (If I can help it.)

Question #7: favourite movie / TV series based on a classic

I’m going to mention three.

1. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) — based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name — starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.

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2. My Fair Lady (1964) — based on Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion — starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

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3. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) — based on Baroness Orczy’s book of the same name –starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour.

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Question #8: worst classic-to-movie adaptation

Hmmm… I find this one hard as I don’t watch many movies. However, of all the classic-to-movie adaptations I have seen I probably liked the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice the least. Whilst Macfayden was likely the most handsome Darcy, the movie was too stylistic and none of the characters were at all likeable.

Question #9: favourite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from

This question isn’t relevant to me these days as I’ve stopped collecting printed books, for the most part. However, the classic editions I have the most of on my shelf currently are the Penguin Popular Classics. Simple really.

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The lot I own now.

I had more than these before the weaning. I love their covers!

 

Questions #10: An under hyped classic you would like to recommend to everyone

Shadow of the Moon by M. M. Kaye. If you loved Gone with the Wind, I believe you will love this one also. It is set during the time of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, and it is beautiful!

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This 1983 edition once belonged to mum, and is now mine. It’s as old as I am!

 

Universal truths and experiences from a 17th century traveller and poet: Matsuo Basho

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Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

From Tim Chilcott’s translation of Matsuo Basho’s Oku No Hosomichi: The Narrow Road into the Deep North.

In the town, there was a painter called Kaemon. I had heard he was a man of truly artistic taste, and I got to know him. He told me he had spent several years tracing places mentioned in poetry that had become hard to locate; and one day, he took us to see some of them(…)

I will bind iris
blossoms round about my feet —
straps for my sandals

The matter of place in Japanese poetry seems to be quite significant.

I also loved the following quotes for the timelessness of certain thoughts and experiences. This one…

Time passes and the world changes. But here, before my eyes, was a monument that had endured a thousand years. I felt that I could understand the feelings of the people of the past. ‘This,’ I thought, ‘is the traveller’s reward. This is the joy of having lived so long.’ I forgot the hardships of the road, and was moved to tears.

…and this one…

That night, I listened to a blind singer reciting a north-country ballad (…) He was performing close to my bed, and I found the rustic tones of his voice very noisy. But then I realised how admirable it was that such fine old customs were still preserved in this distant land.

…it truly amazes one, doesn’t it? This was written back in the seventeenth century, sometime between 1690 and 1694. And I could so relate to monuments that have ‘endured a thousand years’ as I recalled my experience at the Golconda Fort. I’m telling you, I could hear the distant echo of tinkling laughter and secrets shared, and see the glittering array of bejewelled women even before I realised I was in the women’s quarters of the fort.

The second quotation made me laugh because of the number of times I have thought the same when listening to our old music. Some things never change! And still we are enamoured of all things gone by. History has a mystic hold over us — antiquity! “When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity – then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou calledst it, to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern!” Charles Lamb has it down pat.

Just one more…

Everywhere among the pine trees, graves were spread. They filled me with a great sadness, reminding me that all the vows to be ‘a single pair of wings or intertwining branches’ came in the end to this.

The quotation within the above quotation is from a celebrated poem called ‘Song of Everlasting Regret’ by Po Chu-i. I would like to read it. I sense a rich history and a journey of discovery.

Links to a few posts I enjoyed reading this week.

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A Moment’s Reflection (1880) by William Oliver

I would like to dedicate this entry to those few posts I have liked at other blogs this week past.

I don’t follow or read many poetry blogs, but the two I am about to mention, I came across through Vignette (my creative writing blog) this week, and enjoyed reading their poetry.

Philessaltry writes poems that reflect the sociological, philosophical, and political atmosphere of our times. His poetry reminds me of T.S. Eliot. It isn’t light reading at all. But I like having to ponder over the meaning of his words — they make a great deal of sense. Forceful Gales seems to be a bit out of his norm, but it was a little poem with a lovely rhythm and still profound. Moment after the moment is his most recent poem as I type this post. It has evoked quite a bit of discussion as readers have been trying to ponder over its meaning. It’s amazing, the number of interpretations that have come up and fit the poem so well! So, if you’re inclined towards modern and contemporary poetry with all the amalgamation of our times, do head on over to Philessaltry and have a look.

I also want to share Lost to the Sea by Kim M. Russel at Writing in North Norfolk. It was written to a prompt at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, and it is simply beautiful. It is vivid and atmospheric, with a story to tell of something so distant that echoes through the poem. I thought it very Victorian.

Celestine, over at Reading Pleasure, has just published her first book of haiku that centre around Africa, nature, love, the divine and death. She posted a review of her book by another blogger and haiku lover, and the glimpses we get into her work sound so enticing. I would like to mention my favourites in here, but without the cultural references that the reviewer provides, the essence of the haiku might not be completely present. So, I’ll direct you to Celestine’s blog to have a sneak peek at what her debut book is like.

Last of all, and most certainly not the least, I must mention Jillian’s posts at Oh My Words. I’ve known Jillian as a blogger for the past six years, and over those years we have had some interesting discussions on the classics. She is the reason why I read Gone with the Wind, and loved it! Mitchell had not been on my radar until I had read Jillian’s passionate posts on this epic novel. She is a very passionate blogger, with such a beautiful way with words. She can make the most boring topic a lovely read because of her metaphorical way of writing. The words flow from her so daintily and easily and it is sheer poetry in prose. She also has very interesting insights on the things she reads that spark off many a lively discussion. Only yesterday I read her take on Rilla of Ingleside which was rather unusual, but also an interpretation garnered from a lot of reading done on the author’s life and the times. I would also urge you to read her little poem The Birth of Scarlett O’Hara; it is precious.

Have you any little gems to share from the past week? I’m always looking for something good to read. 

Haiku + Travel Writing = Matsuo Basho: A Discovery

My very first introduction to haiku was in a creative writing class I attended about fifteen years ago. I was absolutely delighted with this form of poetry, because I loved the brevity of it and the vivid imagery that could be evoked in just seventeen syllables. I enjoyed writing them, but I never really delved into the form.

About four or five years ago I began Vignette that hosts the majority of my haiku (most of which have been written in response to prompts from various host sites). And still, it never occurred to me to read the history of this delightful Japanese poetic form.

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Basho (1644 – 1694) by Buson

Then today, as I was browsing through the Book Riot posts of the day, I found this — Poetry-Genre Pairings. In this post, Zoe Dickinson pairs up poets to read if we are fond of a particular genre. Under ‘travel writing’ she mentioned Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho:

This book, written in the 17th century C.E., is a mixture of prose and haiku poems recounting Basho’s journey through Edo Japan.

I decided to look it up, and first came across this. The haiku were so stark and vivid I just had to see if I could find a free domain translation of this Japanese poet (Amazon was a tad too expensive for my steadily diminishing purse). And then I came across The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a translation (of translations) by Tim Chilcott. I read through the introduction before deciding it didn’t matter that this was a translation of a translation for the essence of it needed to be captured. Besides, the fact that he got his translation proof-read by a native speaker and a bi-lingual one, convinced me to go ahead with it.

I have only just begun my journey into Basho’s haibun, but I know this is going to be one travel writing I’m going to enjoy reading piece-meal just for sheer beauty of the words and the imagery it evokes.

It was the twenty-seventh day of the Third Month [16 May]. There was a wan, thinning moon, and in the first pale light of dawn, the summit of Mount Fuji could be dimly seen. I wondered if I should ever see the cherry trees of Ueno and Yanaka again. My closest friends, who had gathered together the night before, got on the boat to see me off. We disembarked at Senju, and my heart was overwhelmed by the prospect of the vast journey ahead. Ephemeral though I know the world to be, when I stood at the crossroads of parting, I wept goodbye.

the spring is passing –
the birds all mourn and fishes’
eyes are wet with tears

I wrote this verse to begin my travel diary, and then we started off, though it was hard to proceed. Behind, my friends were standing in a row, as if to watch till we were lost to sight.

Basho had begun his journey to the North at the end of spring and is supposed to have reached his destination five months later at the start of fall.

I look forward to tracing his journey north.