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Love historical fiction? Add these books to your reading list

Do not pass up these dynamic women authors with their wildly imaginative and gripping dramas, backed with the most meticulous research. These powerful stories with ambitious, rebellious protagonists take you on journeys across time and cultures, and often throw light on our shared humanity.


The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau

Secrets of the extremely competitive porcelain trade were much coveted in 18th century England, and the blue pigment even more so. This is a story of espionage but also of the hopes of a young girl trying to find a safe passage into Venice to prove her worth as an artist. And of course, the intriguing history of the colour blue itself.


Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

The futility of conflict and the simple joys of life are beautifully captured in this story revolving around two women, one Tamil and the other Sinhalese (opposing ethnic groups engaged in civil war in Sri Lanka in the eighties). While one family migrates to America and tries to fit in there, the other sees the horror and bloodshed from within. A stunning debut novel, with prose that flows and describes the island in vivid detail.


Rumi's Daughter by Muriel Maufroy

The world hails Rumi as the greatest mystic poet that ever lived but not much is known of the private life of this 13th century Turkish man, apart from his deep friendship with Shams of Tabriz, and the spiritually-inclined adoptive daughter, Kimya. This is the story of Kimya's betrothal to Shams and the nature of the men's friendship as seen through her eyes. A tale of compassion, it meditates on the true meaning of love and life.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The hauntingly brutal saga of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in eighteenth-century Ghana, a time when a booming slave trade thrived. Effia is married to an Englishman, and unknowingly lives in the comfort of a castle right above the dungeons where Esi is held captive in unbelievably inhuman conditions. The story follows the fate of the generations to come, from the point when Esi is sold as a plantation worker and shipped off to America, while Effia's lot grow up amidst warfare and colonisation. It is a thought provoking epic that brings to light the far reaching effects of slavery.


The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak

One of Shafak's finest novels, with architecture in the 16th century Ottoman empire at it's core, this is a book that uses metaphors to talk about restoring peace in the world through love and patience. She has created a lovable character in Jahan, who is apprentice to Mimar Sinan, chief architect for the empire (known to have raised the world-renowned structures like the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace). The story follows Jahan and his beloved elephant in the service of the sultan, and the adventurous course of their lives.


Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

This is the story of Burma's first beauty queen and her tempestuous childhood as seen through the eyes of her granddaughter. It is a commentary on how ordinary lives are affected by the political upheavals in a country struggling for freedom, and is as much a portrait of modern day Burma as it is of the protagonist.


The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Scholarly Alma grows up in Philadelphia in the early 1800s and devotes her life to botany. Never lacking wealth or intellectual stimulation, she comes across various key figures in her life that force her to pause and seek life outside of her comfort zone. It is largely a rumination over the hardships undertaken by early voyagers for the sake of science and the ingenious/unscrupulous ways serious collectors grew their business but on another level, it touches upon abstract concepts like altruism and existentialism.


The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Mehrunnisa lives on the fringes of Mughal Emperor Akbar's palace grounds, and grows into an intelligent, beautiful and ambitious girl who falls in love above her station, with none other than the heir prince Salim. Their immortal love story (also known as that of Nur Jahan and Jahangir) is set in a dangerous time known for its power struggles, and is the first in a trilogy that charts the course of history that follows.


Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The hallmark of 17th century Dutch painting, Vermeer's work by the same name has inspired the author to imagine the artist at home, with all sorts of domestic activity that inspired most of his work. Chevalier's nuanced writing hints at a growing intimacy between the artist and the hired help who eventually becomes his assistant cum model, carrying the reader along the undercurrents of subtle romance.


The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Kidd is known to write women's stories and creating powerful, complex characters that the reader can empathise with. In this book, she reverently depicts Jesus as a social prophet preaching non-violence and expertly sketches out the kind of society that must have existed 2000 years ago. She has imagined life in 1st century Palestine, when women weren't supposed to have a voice. Yet, there is free-spirited Ana, the wife Jesus passionately shared philosophical and spiritual ideas with.


The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

If you love stories from the World War II, this moving re-imagination of the holocaust will not let you sleep. While forging identity documents for Jewish children to escape to neutral Switzerland, Eva and Remy must also use their wits to protect their actual identities, so that the truth is not forgotten with time. It is an engrossing tale about the courage of people who risk their own lives to save others, and a tribute to forgotten real-life heroes.


The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

This deeply engaging coming-of-age novel will give you a glimpse into the plight of refugees seeking safety as well as the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Drawing parallels between the lives of Nour, a girl fleeing civil war and longing for home (in contemporary times) and the fabled brave Rawiya, apprentice to map-maker al-Idrisi (referencing to the Arabian Nights), it is part fantasy and part glimpse into the present-day crisis in Syria. It reminds one of why people carry hope and stories in their hearts.


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