It’s very easy to find historical fiction set in Europe or America. If you’re looking for a book on the wives of Henry VIII, the Italian Renaissance, the US Civil War or the French court, there are literally hundreds of novels to choose from – but historical fiction set in other parts of the world is not as well represented.
I’m participating in A More Diverse Universe at BookLust this month and will have two books to tell you about soon: the first is Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone, set partly in 1930s Peshawar, and the other is Flood of Fire, the final part of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy set in India and China during the First Opium War. Last year, for the same event, I read The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, set in Malaya in the 1940s and 1950s, and The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan, a story of Mughal India. It seems, then, that when I do choose to read more diversely within the historical fiction genre, I tend to pick up books set in Asia (particularly in India and China) rather than in other areas of the world.
A quick look through my blog archives has shown me that I have read a very small number of historical novels set in Africa over the last few years – and even fewer that were actually written by African authors. Several of Dorothy Dunnett’s novels are set partly in Africa (the journey to Timbuktu in Scales of Gold is particularly fascinating), Wendy Wallace’s The Sacred River is set in 19th century Egypt – and of course, there’s Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series which is set in Egypt too. I can also recommend three novels set partly or entirely in Morocco: Linda Holeman’s The Saffron Gate (1930s), Jane Johnson’s The Sultan’s Wife (17th century) and Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account (16th century).
If we can include the 1960s as historical fiction, then I have also read The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone) and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) – and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which covers the history of Ethiopia from around 1950-1980. I do prefer to stick to Walter Scott’s definition of historical fiction, though, which would rule out anything set less than sixty years before publication! Before I started blogging, I read Roots by Alex Haley and the Ramses series by Christian Jacq, but beyond these I’m struggling to think of anything else.
Can you recommend some good historical fiction novels set in Africa? Which are your favourites?