A slice of history

I was talking to Cousin K this morning about how I hated history in school. There was real disgust in my voice and as I heard myself speak I was shocked. Why is it that I hated the subject? I guess it is because we were taught too much in too short a period. World history, British history (at some point I think they were both the same thing!) and of course Indian history which went on forever. The lessons were dry, the teachers disinterested, the classrooms hot and humid as the ancient fans whirred slowly, producing nothing but a gesture. It was all about cramming for the exams with no real interest in an education for life.

And yet, as I pick up my recent reads they’re mostly historical fiction. Given a chance and taught interestingly, history has moved into my top favourite read. The more I think of it, the more I have stayed away from contemporary settings, particularly contemporary Indian settings in the recent past. There’s been this surge in Indian writing in English and I’ve had the misfortune of reading more than a few books where the writing was stilted and laboured. They left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve scurried back to the comfort of cold coffee and my beloved historical fiction. I present to you, some that might interest you.

Girl with a Pearl Earring  – Tracy Chevalier

I’d never heard of Dutch artist Vermeer until I picked up the book and found myself intrigued.  The story is about his inspiration, the maid Griet who his patron has a rather lecherous eye on. Like all historical fiction, most of it is conjecture and I find it really hard to keep that fact in mind. Never mind that it is set in the 17th century Europe, India in the 21st Century still has men who will exploit household help at the smallest chance. Loved this one. Loved it so much that I picked up her Burning Bright. Set in Georgian London, this one is about William Blake and it’s burning a hole on my bedside table, awaiting its turn.

Margaret Forster – Lady’s Maid

This one uses the old correspondence technique. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s maid writes to her mother, telling her of her employer’s suitor, Robert Browning. I grabbed this book the moment I laid eyes on it and I didn’t regret it. One of my favourite love stories, two of my favourite poets – what’s not to like? Yet another book where the servant-employer relationship is a strange and ill-defined one. But then isn’t that always the case in any relationship where the person goes beyond just being hired help?

Loving Frank – Nancy Horan

If I had to pick my favourite, it might just be this. It has all the ingredients I love – architecture, love, betrayal, dilemma. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright eloped with Mamah Cheney, a client’s wife, causing a huge scandal in the early 1900s. I read this one with a lot of mixed feelings. I am all for running off  with the love of your life if you must, but the moment kids enter the picture, choices are no longer so easy. I stay away from the kids for a couple of days and phone calls and updates from family don’t fill the void. I wonder what it would be like to leave the kids and not see them for months or years. To know that no court would award her the children. The kind of scar it would leave on the kids in that time and society to known as the children of the adulterous mother. *shudder* I’ve know deep, crazy passionate love, but I don’t know how she did it. Yes, I think I judged her right through the book .

The Interpretation of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld

I didn’t realise until I finished the book, that this was none other than Tiger Mom Amy Chua’s husband. Speaking of whom, I read the book and have been meaning to talk about it but as usual have so much else to say that I haven’t got around to it. This one is about Freud’s one disastrous trip to America after which he swore never to return to this country that he called a mistake. In the midst of his visit he is called in to give his opinion on a murder that he sets his disciple Stratham Young to solve. I was excited by the blurb, threw myself into the book with much enthusiasm and emerged disappointed. Freud was just used as bait/PR and barely made an appearance. The mystery wasn’t exactly a nailbiter and the story line is weak. I think husband and wife both depended on PR more than content to sell the books.

Still lying on my bedside table are these:

The Poe Shadow – Matthew Pearl

Taking off from Edgar Allan Poe’s death this one is about a fan who decides to dig deeper. I haven’t got any good reviews on it but I’m going to find out for myself when I get the chance.

The Third Prince – Phiroz H Madon

Emperor Akbar’s court, a concubine on the run, a precious pearl stolen. I really want to know more.

Casanova – Andrew Miller

We’ve all heard of Casanova and this particular novel tells the tale of his nemesis. Throw away your M&Bs and pick this one up. I hope it is worth it.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

I get the feeling our kids will never read this author. Never sigh with Beth, run with Jo or fall in love with Meg.  Fact meets fiction as the author makes Louisa fall in love with a fictional character. Nat gave it to me when she visited a couple of days ago and I was shocked at how well she knew me.

There are plenty more but I am running out of time and going nuts linking up, so I shall stop here. What are you reading and what historical fiction do you recommend? I can’t end this post without mentioning Phillipa Gregory’s work. She’s the one that got me hooked on this genre and I can’t thank her enough.

 

 

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101 thoughts on “A slice of history

  1. I was lucky that I had a wonderful history teacher who taught us for three years straight. Enough time to make me fall in love with the subject . I still remember her bob cut, her lovely smile, those chubby fingers always painted and how she would help us connect one event to other and its impact and other parallel events that happend. She was very good. Both my father and grandfather are history lovers and I ended up with history for my graduation as well.

    And it will indeed be sad if our kids will not read Alcott.

    Thank you for book recommendations.

  2. The day the history board exam was done with, I swore never to touch anything that dealt with the subject. The trauma is still so fresh, I really don’t know if breaking the promise would be worth it 😉 But then you go ahead and say Louisa May Alcott, and if that’s not tempting, WHAT is? I love, love, love “Little Women”. Have you read “Little Men” ? You must have…its such a treasure !!!

    Have you noticed MM, how the teachers of a subject become so much like the subject themselves? No offense, of course, but I guess there’s a connection…

    • Oh yes, I read Little Men AND Jo’s Boys. I was most upset that there was no more to the series.

      LOL! no offence, but I don’t know if I’ve noticed it. That said, I’ve loved my literature teachers, always have, and I think to a large extent that created my love for books.

      • There, that’s what I meant. The literature teachers rock !!! And Jo’s Boys 🙂 I was so upset when Larry and Jo went separate paths… But now it all makes sense. Bloody adulthood 😛

          • I enjoyed those books too.There were four of them methinks.Little Women, Good Wives,Little Men & Jo’s boys.Jo was my favourite character.Somehow the thought that my kids may not read them makes me sad.History has always fascinated me & fortunately I had good teachers in the subject.Just visited Kumbhalgarh recently & the history lessons of Rana Pratap ,Chetak all came alive when I visited all those spots:)

  3. I watched the movie ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ with Scarlet Johansson playing the muse. It is an interesting watch.

    • I haven’t caught the movie. I find myself preferring the book in almost all cases. I dont even bother with the Harry Potter movies because there is so much more nuance in a book.

  4. I have had only one good history teacher through school and I did the state board in Bombay where history was essentially the story of Shivaji over and over, some amount of Indian independence struggle, one chapter on Indus Valley Civilisation and about two chapters on the world wars. I still loved history. I would read the badly-written history textbooks telling the same Shivaji story as soon as I got them beofre school started, and force myself to stop halfway through or I would be drifting in class as usual. So yeah, teachers can cultivate love of a subject but if you love a subject, you will love it even with bad teachers/syllabus. My salvation was when my dad got an encyclopedia CD when I was 14 and I could just read anything I wanted about history.

    Obviously, I’m a fan of historical fiction. I went through a Tudor phase, recommendations here (http://itsacharade.blogspot.com/2010/07/tudor-me-now.html). The two I would really reccomend are Vanora Bennett’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman which is about Thomas More’s family but really gives an insight in Holbein’s art and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel about Thomas Cromwell (didn’t know anything about Thomas Cromwell before this but the book really draws you in. Thomas Cromwell was a major player in Henry XIII’s court). I am not a Philippa Gregory fan – think she sentamentalises too much and takes too many liberties with facts – but read her when I run out of options. Will check out your reccomendations… especially the Elizabeth Barrett Browning one.

    Don’t see why our kids – well at least the girls – won’t read Little Women. If we could read it so long after that time what’s another 20-30 years?

    • Tried Wolf Hall at a particularly busy time and ran out of interest. I know PG takes a lot of liberties but I am reading more for a good read than for accurate portrayal. So I pick her over others. We did ICSE and the amount of history being crammed down our throats was insane. I dont think we got the chance to read anything over. We barely made it through the books once 😦

      Will try the one on Thomas More’s family. Sounds interesting.

      • I have to confess I used to read my cousins ICSE history and English textbooks for fun in the holidays. I have a feeling I would have loved history more in ICSE. I thought her textbooks were awesome.

  5. I went to 9 schools (army brat) and can count on one hand the number of good teachers i had who made a positive impression. One of them was my class 10 history teacher. She was so fabulous, i can still tell you every little detail about both world wars backwards and in my sleep. I think i discovered a love of history from her and since have been mad about anything with even a whiff of historical to it!

    You mentioned liking historical fiction – have you tried Michelle Moran (http://michellemoran.com/books/index.html)? She does take a few liberties with the facts, but makes for a gripping and pacey read.

    • I don’t mind liberties with facts. It IS after all, historical fiction. Not history. When I want plain vanilla history I shall read it that way. Thanks for the recco 🙂

      • You’re welcome! In fact i have more recos for you.You could have look at Jean Plaidy as well.
        Sorry for the overkill, but say books and I cant help but jump in and add my 20 (whole) dollars worth

  6. other than the girl with a pearl earring and phillipa gregory i haven’t read any of the books you’ve mentioned. i have read all of Alcott’s books though, each more than once. she was one of my favourite authors as a child/teenager. still love reading her – it’s like the literary equivalent of a hot cup of chocolate. i so so want to read more. i have this neverending list of books to read and i just can’t keep up. with a crazy work schedule and an attention seeking toddler, i haven’t finished the river of smoke which i started 2 weeks ago. i can’t believe that this is really me. HOW do you find time to read? tell me pleeease.

    • Anna’s mom….ur story is similar to mine. I started maintaining an xls with my book reading list and it has now grown to over 250 :((( The only time I find is the 5-6 minutes while waiting for my bus in the morning and another half an hour (if lucky) after my daughter goes to sleep (she is a week older to Anna). I wish I could do with less sleep and another 24 hours in a day. Just looking at that list makes me sad……

  7. Oh I hated history too, mainly because it was taught in such a dry way and I could never relate to those stories. I haven’t read any historical fiction – in fact, none from your list, but all of them do sound delicious. Especially Lady’s Maid. Thanks for some wonderful recos. Got to try them out sometime. Have made a note. 🙂

    Gosh, you sound so much like me in terms of reading. I read in the kitchen, lying down, sitting, standing, on the pot, anywhere. 🙂

    Have you tried Indu Sundaresan’s books? Haven’t read them but have heard them being spoken of in glowing terms.

  8. Oh, History used to be my fave subject in school,second only to English. When the teacher used to talk about the Mughal architecture, I used to daydream that I could have been Jodha in one of my previous lives 😛

    Anytime I watch movies like the Mummy, National Treasure or books like the Da Vinci Code (not in the same league of books that you mentioned :D), I do wish I was one of them running around the world finding lost treasures and stuff instead of sitting in front of the comp all day!

  9. History always meant those kings who dug wells, planted trees, made roads and built public shelters – really hard working folks! Clearly, I didn’t learn much. The best History teacher I ever got, was really passionate about the subject; but was a bad teacher. Talent wasted in teaching.

    The first book I read, that had something to do with history, was strangely not fiction (I’m generally allergic to non-fiction). My experiments with truth – I loved that.

    If there are any malayali comment surfers who come this way:
    Do read Marupiravi by Sethu. A story about Muziris (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muziris) the ancient port of kerala that used to be the contact point between traders from Rome/European countires/Egypt and India/China. You guys will surely remember the recent excavations done near North paravur (Kochi). They found stuff dated between 1st century BCE and 4th century CE! I can’t believe History was ‘sleeping’ so near to my home.

    I think, I love History now 🙂

  10. I never really enjoyed Lousia May Alcott’s writing. I always felt as though she was preaching to me, and her characters-especially Beth-were always too good to be true.
    I love history and historical fiction. Have you read Sea of Poppies? I really enjoyed it.

    • No, I haven’t read Sea of Poppies, yet. And yes, Beth was a little too good to be true but I guess she was just giving what the times demanded – virtuous women!

  11. I am thinking of putting up a waterproof bookshelf by my pot these days and also go to the pot as often as I can…if i get by the day’s paper, then I am lucky that day. Whats with these babies…i did read a lot of books during maternity thinking some of those genes will pass on to the baby..how wrong !!
    I really miss the mad rush to finish books that I had before getting married, and to some extent before the baby.

  12. Talk about how history is taught in school. I went to school in the Middle East and as stupid as this may sound, I think I went through school never really believing that all of it actually happened. For me, history was about learning a series of questions and answers (in points) about the causes and effects of the world wars (and practically everything). I only began enjoying history when I was doing English (hons) back in India and realised how much fun it was to know about the temporal settings of the novels. As for Louisa May Alcott’s books, I enjoyed all four thoroughly. I had a similar interest in L M Montogomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” series though I never got to read all of them. But that was all many years ago….:( I am so much less discerning now. I practically read anything that comes my way..even if the book is called “Life’s too short to frost a cupcake” which was the last book I read and a total waste of time. It like there’s an overdose of mindless literature out there now.

    I’ve been reading your blog for ages now and really enjoy it, especially the tales of the Brat and the Bean. Thought I should finally surface and say hi. But of course, once I start talking, a lot more tumbles out 🙂

    • It’s so nice to watch people delurk on different kinds of posts 🙂 And yes, I can read anything now, even the label on a shampoo bottle. There is a certain joy in grabbing moments here and there, isnt there? 🙂

      • I so identify with the reading labels thing! If there is nothing to read, I will read labels. In fact, once I was with a couple of boys trying to get stoned… and nothing was happening. I was so bored, I picked up the Coke 1 litre bottle next to me and starting reading the label. The boys were in splits, convinced I was stoned. But I wasn’t. I was just doing waht I would normally do when no books/newspapers are around.

  13. I dont know if you’ve read her, but alongside Alcott, Lucy Maud Montgomery is one of my favourite authors. The Anne of Green Gables series is outstanding. I’m going to MAKE my kids (if and when) read them.

  14. ICSE History here too – but time has dimmed the pain 🙂 Though, even now, 26 years after the fact (eep!) start me off on the series of dates for Muhammad Ghazni and the whole set comes back to me! 🙂

    Other recs: Dorothy Dunnett – I prefer her Lymond Chronicles to her Nicolo series, but that’s a personal preference. There are plenty of folks who adore both her series. Note that these books are chock full of French and references that Dunnett expects her readers to know – there is a companion as well that explains, but I read the series through the first time without getting half the refs and it was still gripping.

    Austen (but of course!) 🙂

    Alcott – eh, I used to enjoy parts of Little Women/Men/Jo’s Boys (though all the saintliness made me gag even then) – but the books haven’t aged well for me, and I can’t read them now.

    Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael mysteries. Set in 11th/12th century England. Very well written.

    And since History is anything in the past 🙂 Sayers – They start off as pure fluff, golden age mysteries, and lead to my favourite desert island read: Gaudy Night. The series runs from about late 1920s to 1936.

    And I second the dislike for Philippa Gregory…way too sentimental. I can deal with taking liberties with facts…not goo.

    M

    • You know we’re going to go through life never liking the same things, right? 🙂 I’ve made my peace with that!

      Shall look for your other reccos – making a list.

  15. I am a history nerd!! Love it!!! The Interpretation of Murder was such a great book, I’ve even read some other very similar books lately..not as great but fun enough. I’ve also been reading about the Mughals lately. Will try and get some of these other books you’ve mentioned. I am on mad Flipkart phase right now!!!

  16. “The Poe Shadow”…Ugh. There’s a reason why you haven’t seen too many good reviews of it, believe me. The plot is muddled, the pace slower than frozen molasses, and the author is pretty worthless in conveying a sense of the historical Poe. I honestly don’t know of any reason for anyone–Poe fan or not–to read the darn thing.

    I’m not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but there are two older books I loved, if you can find copies of them in your library: Elizabeth Byrd’s “Immortal Queen” (Mary Queen of Scots) and Patrick Carleton’s “Under the Hog” (Richard III.)

  17. I have changed a lot of schools( army khanabadosh family ), so I don’t remember all my history teachers, but my history teacher in 9th and 10th was quite amazing, the way she used to teach us, it was never boring. She connected the events so well and told it like a story 🙂 History was fun!
    And this despite her going through a personal tragedy at that time, she carried herself so well. She was an excellent teacher and that’s why I remember her and her teachings so vividly even today.

    I am currently finishing up the last book in the Millennium series – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_series
    They were so fast paced that I couldn’t keep any of them down!
    I have watched the Swedish movies based on them too, and found them very well made( note- not for kids )

    I enjoyed reading Little Women, all Jane Austin novels and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

    • I enjoyed the pace of the Millenium series but couldn’t help but wonder how much we had lost in translation… the writing wasn’t as good as I thought it would/should be.

      • MM, me too! I wonder how good the orginals must be.

        Puneet, yes, I found the Swedish movies pretty well made too. But, is it just me, even while reading the books, Lisbeth looked like Kalki Koechlin in my mind. And I think the lady who did the part in the movies was a bit old for the part; but, what an actress!

        • seriously, I became a Noomi Rapace fan after watching the series :). Have you watched any of her interviews? She is so feminine in reality, so different from the character she portrayed. Now i hear they are making a Hollywood movie on the first book.

          I agree with you MM and Krishna, I did feel that the quality of the English translation wasn’t on par with other English novels, but being a translation I expected that, so that didn’t bother me too much.

  18. How could you forget Dalrymple??? Okay it’s not fiction but it’s history made awesome anyway!

    And for kids there is a gazillion books now. Entire series. My top fav is The Little House series. Many many more for Brit and American history. For Indian history there is this Pratham Books series called Once Upon an India and this book called The Forbidden Temple by Tulika. And oh a series by IELTS. And I cannot remember any more but there are several more, though given the richness of this country’s past there is scope for much much more.

      • I was just going to put in a comment about White Mughals and City of Djinns and saw this 🙂

        Indu Sunderesan is not bad – Philippa Gregory gone Mughal, the stories are interesting, done from the feminine POV, reasonably well written and facts stretched… I would say worth a read. I remember an old book shelf photo where you had one of her books- the twenthieth wife I think..

        You could also try some of Kate Quinn or Stephanie Dray- Ancient Egypt fiction..

        • *freaks out* dude, what is that memory you have? yes, it was part of a shelf that i clicked pics of. And now I can’t find it. I have cartons of books and its gone under something. i’ll have to organise a dig to find it.

  19. If you like historical fiction, read ‘The Twentienth Wife’ by Indu Sundaresan. It chronicles the love story of Jehangir and Nur Jahan(or Mehrunissa as she was originally known) Amazing read! There’s a sequel that I haven’t read yet, which covers a little bit of the legendary Shah Jahan and Mumtaz (or Arjumaand) love story. Gives an insight into life in the Mughal times, an insight which is both sad at times and fascinating at others..

    • There are two books along the same lines after Twenthieth wife – Feast of Roses which is Arjumand’s-Shahjahan story and Shadow Princess which is Shahjahan’s oldest daughter’s story. I especailly liked the abck drop of the Taj construction and back ground on a young Aurangzeb as well…

  20. Whee! Books! Historical fiction! How can I not add my two cents? 🙂
    I LOVED the Tracy Chevalier book you’ve mentioned. There’s a collection of short stories by her, all about a lost Vermeer painting. It’s called Girl in Hyacinth Blue and I highly recommend it.
    Alcott is one of my favourite writers, and after Little Men and Jo’s Boys was over (Dan. Sigh!) I foraged through Gutenberg for some of her short stories. Not as great but nice nonetheless.
    I’ve read one PG book (The Other Boleyn Girl) but I’ve read it about ten times 😀
    While it’s not exactly historical fiction, the “Anne books” remain my favourite series of all time. Montgomery used the language so, so beautifully. Have you read any?
    Thanks for the rest of the recommendations!
    Can someone tell me if there’s any good Indian historical fiction out there?

  21. History. Sigh. It’s pretty much the only genre I read. And I have my Dad to thank for it. We grew up on his stories of the Mughals and he narrated them so beautifully, I couldn’t wait to read all about them. If you like Raj history, let me know, I’ll give you an unending list.
    And if you want to get in touch with Phiroz Madon, holler. He’s a close friend’s mama.

  22. ICSE here too..it was bleedy painful no…do you remmeber the biology course…it was like doing an mbbs!! Man!
    Ok must confess I lurvvvvvvve history…my nani and dadi both did their masters in it…and the dadi from st stephens no less…! So it trickled down nicely to me I think. I fancied myself as some big shot archeologist some day…never happened- ended up studying literature…but went back to it while preparing for IAS, it was my mains-subject. Guess what, loved history so much that cracking the written exams was kewl…sigh. Didnt qualify the interview..but i digress…
    So anyway, I feel sad when someone says they dont enjoy the subject…I am currently studying Jesus’ lineage-his family. Amazing. goose pimply stuff…after which I plan to read about the Prophet Mohammed, which will be just as amazing I think…teachers have been lit teachers as well…including hindi lit teacher….and I was an eng lit teacher once…loved dressing up the part- cottons and big bindis…off tangent now. I think the talk of history got me excited.
    have read only a few of ur reco’s. sounds interesting.
    lovely post…
    h
    and all my fav te

  23. oops ‘teachers have been lit teachers as well’ – i meant have always loved my lit teachers. Mishtik ho gaya.

  24. I hear historical fiction. This is all I read these days. Have you read Indu Sundaresan? She is my all time favorite Indian historical fiction writer. And ofcourse Phillipa Gregory I can read over and over. And nothing to add about Rowling. She’s amazing. I am so sad the Potter series is ending. I am reading the Deathly Hallows super fast (although this is the second time) in time to watch the movie on Monday. Its my birthday and hubby has booked tickets for us. Also I saw your comment about not watching the Potter films, I would say this is one time that the movie has not spoilt the book for me. I can read the books and watch the movies over and over again.

    • I don’t mind watching Potter, because the movies by themselves are fine. It’s the fact that I’ve read the book and am waiting for some tiny detail to pop up that is bothersome. Because obviously it doesn’t.

  25. Oh I just saw the one of the books you listed was Living Frank. I live in Oakpark – where his home and studio was!!!!! It is still there open to the public. Oh my! I need to read the book and go take the tour!!

      • I will! Now I cannot postpone the tour any longer.
        Or better yet when you come to the US to visit Baby Button, you can come here and we can do it together :).

  26. i passed all my history exams with ‘flying colors’ (don’t you love that word!) but remember zilch now about indian or world history. totally with you on the hot and humid classrooms and the dreary fans. and all our history classes seemed to be scheduled for the afternoon. the mind doesn’t absorb much after a hearty meal, sorry.
    but thanks a ton for the recommendations. I promise myself to read more books and fewer blogs. someday.

  27. Fyi, I live about two miles from Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s house. Even though her books are fictional, did you know they are based on her actual family? She changed the names of her sisters but their personalities are the same. Also, in real life her father did not go to war (he was too old). It was young Louisa herself who went to war as a nurse tending to the wounded. If you’ve read her books you can recognize the rooms and little areas within Orchard House.

    Btw, I’m bummed that my own historical fiction book did not make your list 😦

  28. Thanks for the recommendations. Mine (not that you asked, but what are comments for if not for gratuitous advice?)
    1. Wolf Hall and A Place of Greater Safety. Both by Hilary Mantel.
    2. While not purely historical, “The Historian”(Elizabeth Kostova) and “The Secret History” (Donna Tartt). Well, they’ve got ‘history” in their name, it counts!
    3. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser. Antonia Fraser has written a ton of other historical stuff as well.
    4. And then there were the series about 12th century England, I read them years ago one summer vacation and have forgotten the titles and author. If anyone knows them, please let me know. It was one family, the heroine’s name was Eleonor and she had 13 children. Can’t believe I don’t recall the name!!
    n!

    • I think I must go back to Wolf Hall and labour over it. I picked a bad time and was very distracted. 2 pages on the pot, 2 standing in a bank queue and 2 while waiting to pick the kids up at the bus stop. I retained nothing, got frustrated, and dumped it somewhere.

      • Oooh so many reccos. Loving this post… and sorry for the so-many comments. The first chapter of Wolf Hall is not great – kid being beaten up, running away etc. So skim through it if it’s getting you bored. Wolf Hall is really beautiful, and somewhere in the middle of it, go to wiki and read about Thomas Cromwell, you realise Mantel’s achievement in humanising the character.

        • Bride’s advice reminds me of the episode during my 10th vacation where I could go past first few pages of the huge 5 volume ponniyin selvan.. Then my dad told me to skip the first few pages.. I did and oh man I was hooked to it..

          • It is beautiful but slow. You have to slow down and read it. I think the common feature between both the Hilary Mantel books (at least for me) was that there was so.much.time in between events. When we learn history, its often in fast forward. Henry VIII for example doesn’t get permission in a day to marry Anne Boleyn. It takes years and years. Marie-Antoinette reigns for ages before the French Revolution. The revolution itself takes ages to materialize to the Storming of the Bastille. And so on. Really shows you that history happens quite slowly (though perhaps in this day and age, maybe faster?)

  29. Usually a lurker.. But a post on books has made me delurk on your blog after a couple of years I bet! There is a good bit of Indian historical fiction that is there on the shelves.. The empire of the moghul series by Alex Rutherford is quite decent. You’ll just need to ignore the colonial influences on the way names have been spelt beginning with Moghul! They have been written by a couple and are pretty well researched and quite fast paced. And in case you are interested, ponniyin selvan, parthiban kanavu of kalki’s which have been translated into english. And yes the others being indu sunderasan, kiran nagarkar, amitav ghosh

  30. Guys, don’t you think uncle Pai did his bit for entertaining-history through Amar Chitra Katha? I still love to read ’em….and refuse to be embarrassed.

  31. I hated history in school…absolutely HATED it…and largely due to this teacher we had who used to terrorize everyone. But imagine my surprise (and horror) when i scored real well in boards and ended up taking History (Hons) in i guess the same college you went to…
    But now any connection i have to history is looking up Harappa and Nalanda site photos on Wikipedia.
    I also wanted to be an archaeologist, but that was all Harrison Ford..Sigh!

  32. loong time ago read “fine balance” – rohinton mistry. that was more recent history, indira gandhi and emergency…but liked the setting bcoz its a period i grew up in but was too young to understand it was “history” in the making!
    if you like non-fiction – parenting, i will go check some stuff i have…i love those that deal with “learning” and how it happens in young ones.

  33. I hated my History teacher in school with full vengeance…not cos she was bad….ummm i think she was…never got me interested in History as a subject….just managed to cram all the dates and inane text for passing grades.

    I hated her for an entirely different reason: i met the love of my life while i was in school and used to spend all my free (bunked a lot as well) classes with him…either in the library or wandering around the sprawling school campus or sitting down on the cool marble steps of the temple in teh summers (in the school premises) gazing at each other longingly. One day she (my history teacher) was on her way home (all teachers are given accomodation within school premises) and apparently ”caught” us chatting on the temple steps…yes thats what she meant when she blasted me for disgracing my parents good reputation by my ”disgraceful” behavior…that meeting and her mean choice of words left a bad tatste in my mouth and i never forgave her for being so immature about the whole episode. She could have chosen a different set of words and could have been kind at the same time as being strict but i guess she had a lot of growing up to do!

    My point i s…History always makes me think of her and its never a pleasant feeling!!

    Having ranted about that…have you read Phillipa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn girl’?

    There is a movie based on this book as well starring ‘The Hulk’ (can never recall his name…he’s delicious :p), Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman…the book is much better and the movie doesn’t do complete justice to the story… i absolutely loved the book!

  34. I used to be a voracious reader,but can hardly find the time now. And when I find books that I want to read, there’s almost always a movie out there based on the same. Torn between watching the movie in 2 hours or reading bits and pieces on the pot,at the station,on subways! Got a kindle now and trying to re-kindle 🙂 my love for reading.

    Could you do a full fledged post on books that you’ve read and liked? Am sure that the comments on your post would churn out some good books as well.

  35. I LOVE history. I studied in ICSE too, and had a horrible teacher to boot (my worst teacher stories from school are all about the history teacher). And yet, I loved the subject so much that I was considering doing a BA in History. But at that age, I didn’t what career I could pursue after studying history, and I didn’t want to go digging in the sun all day as an archaeologist, so I took commerce instead. I sometimes think I may have ended up teaching college level history if I had taken up history in undergrad.

    I read a lot of non-fiction history, but also enjoy historical fiction. I like Phillippa Gregory, even though she is very biased and often inaccurate, she makes for a fun, racy read. I’ve read most of her books. And I read Wolf Hall and I didn’t care for it much – but then, I’ve never liked Thomas Cromwell, so I am biased. I love William Dalrymple – and White Mughals is one of my favourites.

    By the way, I read The Poe Shadow and had to struggle to finish it. It was pretty bad.

    And thanks so much for this post. Great list – in the post and the comments. Have added to my (already very long) to-be-read list. Another author I am looking forward to read is Alex Rutherford. Flipkart, here I come!

  36. Class VIII onwards I got bored to death with History- the classes were always after lunch and we had the most boring teacher on the planet. I get embarrassed by my ignorance of history in conversations with the son! I am, however, fascinated by historical fiction, which makes it come alive.
    Historical fiction which I have loved, apart from the Darymple’s, the last couple of which are just too fat for me to read after a point:
    Agatha Christie’s Death Comes as the End: A murder mystery set in ancient Egypt, and, if I remember rightly, solved in the present. Fabulous. Since her husband, Max Mallowan, was an archeologist, she’d accompany him on his digs.
    I was thrilled to pass by the Old Cataract Hotel where they used to stay on our Nile cruise last year:)
    Jawahara Saidullah brought many legends alive in The Burden of Foreknowledge. Chhappan Chhuri immediately comes to mind.
    Madhulika Liddle’s The Englishman’s Cameo was another brilliant murder mystery set in Mughal times, beautifully written.
    Will tell you more when I remember them!

    As a proud mother, I’m thoroughly enjoying the pieces the son writes about Delhi and its history:)

    • I love all of Anand’s work. He’s brilliant – all mothers are proud, but you should be that extra bit of proud 🙂
      And yes, I loved Madhulika’s book. Well written, good plot, great feel of the era.

  37. My love for history started with my dad ( a fauji) would weave stories around all the wr movies he showed us….the intrigue, the battles, the escape plans, the heroes……and also love to discuss what we were reading and historically place it. I grew up with historical literature all around me thanks to mom….

    Art history has been another favourite….I studied in delhi in a cbse school, where we had 5 marks in class 12 for cultural heritge of which there was an extensive chapter on art. The teacher and the students would skip it saying it wasnt worth time n effort…. When I went back to teach that very same class in the very same school, I remember, i decided to introduce the studentd to this rich bit of history. Imagine talking about vincent van gogh and da vinci and renoir and not know anything abouttheir art and their stories. Van gogh was not just about the sunflowers…….the brush strokes in each of his paintings spoke volumes…..his friendship with gauguin…….vermeer….his work…..and the stories of how many jewish families, when fleeing germany from hitler left everything but a painting of his that they painted ovet, just so that it wouldnt be caught…….very few of them sold these when they reached safer places….they reminded them of their homeland…….
    I was so glad to find a husband who shares this love for art…..together we have spent two lovely afternoons at the national museum in london……we still have a trip planned to go around europe….just to visit the galleries….hopefully it will happen soon…..

  38. Thanks for the list. Historical fiction is my comfort-reading. 🙂 And I didn’t know Dipali’s son wrote on Delhi. So I’m going to go hunt that up.

  39. I’ve always loved history, regardless of boring teachers. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, one of the bookshelves is packed with only that. Try Jean Plaidy, she’s fab. I also loved The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, about a tapestry woved in the 1700s…MM Kaye is fabulous, esp Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon. I also remember a superb series set in the Mughal courts, by a French author, which I read in high school, but can’t remember the author’s name…

    Love sme of the suggestions in your post, will definitely read the LM Alcott one, I loove her. Am going to make sure my daughter reads all her books, including Eight cousins and Rose in Bloom, as well as the Little women quartet. Speaking of historicals, have you read sea of poppies?

  40. Haven’t read all the comments yet but not sure if you’ve read any of Indu Sunderesan’s books, I like ” the Twentieth Wife” and “Feast of roses” among her work.
    Good teachers are very rare and I fortunately had one that helped me develop an interest in History, also helped to go to a small school with less than 25 kids in a class, allowed the teacher to know which child was interested in what. Geography on the other hand was a big foe till I grew up ans started to travel.

  41. Pingback: On my bedside table | The Mad Momma Online

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