Insights from Fiction

headmaster's wager coverReading fiction is a unique way to learn about different cultures, places, and periods in history.  Many authors bring authenticity to their books by doing extensive research to ensure readers are immersed in their setting, and that their stories are historically accurate.  Here are some books that will take you places, and give you an insider’s look at some times and locations with which you might not be familiar.

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
Set before and during the Vietnam War, this book tells the story of a father trying his best to give his son a bright future.  Life is a constant struggle for survival for the Headmaster, who is trying to keep his school open, his safe full, and raise his son with honour.  The complex web of underground networks, twisted officials, and double agents is fascinating.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
Pearce transports her readers to London, England, during the Second World War.  The nights are terrifying as folks crowd into shelters to escape German bombings, and during the day the British stiff upper lip and plucky spirit prevails.  This was an exciting time for young people, especially women, who took advantage of unique opportunities to spread their wings.  It was also a time of heartbreak and real danger.  Pearce writes about Emmy, a budding journalist who lands a job as the assistant to an advice columnist — Mrs. Bird.  Emmy’s job is to remove any letters which Mrs. Bird might find offensive — but those are the ones Emmy feels a need to answer.  She takes a risk, and ultimately uses her personal experiences to help others.

dear mrs bird coverThe Break by Katherena Vermette

Although set in Winnipeg, this story could have taken place right here in Thunder Bay.  Vermette explores what life in the city is like for several young Indignous women.  They’re on their own journeys, but connected to each other, and in the end the connection is what matters most. Both painfully raw and disturbing, and warmly loving, this book provides a view of modern life many need, but have likely not experienced.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Folllet

The building of a cathedral in England during the twelfth century is the focus of this book, although it is about much more.  Follet takes his readers back in time to experience daily life, and the ordered chaos which miraculously results in a grand cathedral.  Social strata, trade organizations, and church politics are explored.  This is a long book, but it will leave you wanting more — and thankfully there are two more in the series.

the break coverThe Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

A sad chapter in modern Canadian history happened in the 1940s and 50s, which I don’t recall learning about in school.  Due to a change in Quebec social policy under Premier Duplessis, a generation of orphans in care in Quebec were deemed mentally unfit and suffered horrendously as a result.  Goodman tells the heartbreaking story of one of these “Duplessis orphans”.  She shares the story between the perspective of a mother forced to give up her baby, and that of the “orphan” stuck in the system.

If there’s an historical event, social movement, or place in the world you want to explore, chances are there’s a fiction book which will provide insight.  Your Library card gives you access to NoveList, an online tool to help you find great books to read.  Find NoveList in My Giant Search at www.tbpl.ca/virtualcollection, or ask our friendly staff to show you how it works the next time you visit.

Joanna Aegard www.tbpl.ca.  If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below!

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